The NBA Finals are set. The Los Angeles Lakers will meet the Miami Heat this Wednesday at 8 pm CST. LeBron James will lead the Lakers to their first appearance since 2010. Miami will be returning to the Finals for the first time since 2014. In a crazy twist of fate, James led the Miami team to the playoffs six years ago.
One of the biggest stories in sports media for NBA fans will be James making his 10th NBA Final appearance in 17 seasons. The other story making headlines is the fact that these two teams have former Kentucky Wildcats helping to get it done.
The Lakers have reached the Finals thanks to veteran leadership. Much of that veteran presence is from two former Kentucky Wildcat players. The first is 14-year-veteran and Louisville native Rajon Rondo. The 6’1” point guard has elevated his name in the record books during this playoff run. In this series, Rondo passed Scottie Pippen and the late Kobe Bryant in all time playoff assists. Currently, he sits in the number eight spot with 1,053 assists. More than likely, he will jump two more spots before the season is over. Rondo is seeking his second NBA Championship; his first came in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.
Another veteran player for LA is 2012 NCAA Champion Anthony Davis. Though Rondo has more experience in the playoffs, Davis has eight years in the league and is playing incredible basketball in this postseason. The Lakers narrowly won the Western Conference Finals over the Nuggets 4-1. They survived game 2 thanks to a Davis three point buzzer beater. He averaged 31.2 points per game to help them earn their way to the Finals.
The Lakers are fortunate to have former Wildcat veterans on their team. The Miami Heat has two less experienced former Kentucky players on their roster. Jimmy Butler is the veteran superstar for Miami and the Heat has several players that can produce a great game any night.
Bam Adebayo, a former Wildcat under John Calipari, is Miami’s second option. The 23 year old 6’9” power forward had the career defining block in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The team still needed two more wins to make it to the finals. Adebayo took responsibility for their game 5 loss, but bounced back huge in game 6 with 32 points and 14 rebounds to lead them to victory.
Last but not least is Tyler Herro, the second former Wildcat on the Heat’s roster. Herro is in his rookie season but plays like a season pro. The kid averaged 19.2 points and 6.2 rebounds against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami basically ran the offense through Herro in game 4. As a result, he dropped 37 points for the win. Incidentally, this 37 point game broke the record for most points by a Heat rookie in a playoff game. One last fast-fact, Tyler Herro is the first player born in the 2000s to make the NBA Finals.
We aren't closing the books on University of Kentucky ties to the 2020 NBA Finals yet. The Heat has the highly-successful Pat Riley as part of the organization. He’s been the President of the team since 1995, with a couple stints as head coach. Riley played for the Kentucky Wildcats from 1964 to 1967. In what might be one of the craziest stats in sports history, Pat Riley has been involved in the NBA title scene for the past six decades.
You read that right, as either player, coach or team executive, Pat Riley has been a part of the NBA Finals in some form or fashion since the 1970s. In 1972, as a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, Riley became an NBA Champion for the first and only time as a player.
As coach of the famous “Showtime Lakers”, Pat Riley won four NBA championships in the 1980s. In 1994, while head coach of the New York Knicks, Riley coached the team to the NBA Finals where they fell to the Houston Rockets. Though he doesn’t have any championship rings from the 90s, he was named Coach of the Year three times that decade.
In 2006, Pat Riley coached the Miami Heat to their first NBA championship. As an executive for the same organization, Riley has two NBA championships from 2012 and 2013. In 2020, Riley starts the decade off with yet another NBA Finals appearance as President of the Miami Heat.
Frank Vogel is the current coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Vogel actually has ties to the University of Kentucky, as well. He was a former student manager under Coach Rick Pitino during the 1994-95 season. The following season, Pitino resurrected the junior varsity Kentucky basketball team whom Vogel played for. Pitino was also the reason Vogel got started in the NBA, as the former UK coach recruited Vogel to his Boston Celtics team in 1997 as video coordinator. This is Vogel’s first year as coach for the Lakers and first Finals appearance in 10 years as head coach. He may not have any awards, but if his career resembles Riley’s, he’s starting off in the right organization.
While Riley and Rondo are looking to add additional hardware to their trophy room; Davis, Adebayo, or Herro will be the first Calipari recruits from Kentucky to do it. There are many storylines to follow in the 2020 NBA Finals, and success from former Kentucky Wildcats is definitely one of them! Tip-off for game 1 of the NBA Finals is set for 8:00 PM (CST) Wednesday, September 30 on ABC.
2020 NBA Finals Schedule
Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 5*: Friday, Oct. 9 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 6*: Sunday, Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Game 7*: Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. ET
* if necessary
** All games on ABC