The 2023 NBA Finals Matchup Reminds Me Of What the Vikings Can’t Do
Whenever I watch a team win a championship I try to envision the Minnesota Vikings in the winning team’s shoes. This doesn’t just go for teams that win it all; because the Vikings haven’t been to the Super Bowl since January 1977, just seeing a team punch their ticket to the big dance feels unattainable for my favorite team.
As a very casual NBA fan at this point in my life, the Conference Finals once again had me dreaming about what could be for the Purple. The last time that the Vikings were en route to the Super Bowl, the Denver Nuggets were getting their feet wet in their first NBA season. In their 48th season, the Nuggets finally advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in their history, sweeping the LA Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. No matter who they faced out of the Eastern Conference, the Nuggets would surely be favored.
The Boston Celtics, who had fallen behind 3-0 after three games in the Eastern Conference Finals, had come back to tie the series on Saturday. The Miami Heat were three seconds away from winning the series in Game 6 before a potential game-winning shot bounced off the rim, only to be put back in by Derrick White as time expired.
With the series tied three games apiece, the Celtics were on the verge of becoming the first team to ever overcome an 0-3 deficit. After all, they were the the No. 2 seed in the East, whereas the Heat were the No. 8 seed. They then responded by playing a sloppy 48 minutes of basketball, falling 103-84 to the Heat.
Both the Nuggets and Heat did what the Vikings haven’t done in generations. The Nuggets took care of business all postseason as the favorites in the West, something that the Vikings didn’t do during their magical 1998 season.
Nikola Jokic was phenomenal during the regular season and was equally spectacular during the playoffs, winning the Western Conference MVP. This is in contrast to Brett Favre in 2009. After a season where he threw a career-low seven interceptions, Favre threw a bad pass across his body with the NFC Championship on the line. The Vikings would lose to the New Orleans Saints in overtime.
If you think that example sucks, then we can go with Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a kick all season in 1998, narrowly missing a field goal that would have iced the NFC Championship over the Falcons. Or the Vikings’ top-ranked defense no-showing against the Eagles in 2017. There’s probably more, but you get the picture.
The Heat, meanwhile, advanced to the Finals the hard way, being the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference. But they knocked off both the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks before the Celtics series. Up 3-0, everything pointed to a Cinderella story. Then, the Celtics won Game 4. Then Game 5. The dramatic ending in Game 6 could have been a knockout blow for an underdog. Instead, the Heat not only survived the gut-punch, they threw their own haymaker.
Since their final Super Bowl appearance, the Vikings have played in six conference championships. Only once have they been hosted the game during that span. 1987 was the closest they had to a true Cinderella run, before Darrin Nelson dropped a game-tying touchdown at the goal-line on 4th down.
They had the Saints on the ropes in 2009, but they unfortunately couldn’t pull through. Outside of that, you know how the team usually responds to adversity. Minnesota was down 14-0 before the offense even took the field in the 2000 NFC Championship Game against the Giants. Momentum was lost and never regained when Case Keenum threw a pick-6 against the Eagles in 2017. Hell, Denny Green was so shell-shocked by the Falcons tying the 1998 title game up that he opted to take a knee with the highest-scoring offense in NFL history.
I don’t have a huge rooting interest in the NBA Finals. No matter who wins, the Nuggets’ and Heat’s championship runs will have been done in a way that the Vikings have never been able to. But I know that winning it all is getting ahead of myself. The Vikings need to win the NFC Championship first. They could learn something from both the Nuggets and Heat.