In an attempt to assuage the alternating feelings of boredom and panic everyone is experiencing, the NBA and Turner Sports announced Wednesday they will make League Pass free until April 22. Merciful! Now if we can get on paying those arena workers their lost wages. Free League Pass means access to every game this season, past Finals series through 2000, and a slew of classic games. With so much content, you need a navigator to point to the best games to fill your time. Here’s my guide for which games to revisit based on what mood you’re in:
If You Want to Watch the Good Kind of Hero Ball, Watch This:
May 31, 2007: Cavaliers vs. Pistons
There are approximately 78 games that could be referred to as “The LeBron Game”; Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals is my third choice, behind:
- Game 6 in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals against Boston
- Rotating spot, since LeBron is 35 and still having ageless Bow to the Crown performances; currently occupied by Game 5 of the 2016 Finals against Golden State.
LeBron was 22 years old when he made this trip to the Palace, so he was still scoring at will with raw power; he hadn’t yet undergone any of his many reinventions of his body and style of play. Watching LeBron through the years is watching consistent greatness through ever-evolving methods. In Game 5, he scored Cleveland’s final 25 points by shooting 11-for-13, forcing double overtime and stealing the win. It was a pivotal moment for everyone I knew. After Game 5, you either loved him, admired him, or hated him.
Pair with: Red wine.
If You Want to Watch Old-School Bully Ball, Watch This:
May 14, 1993: Knicks vs. Hornets
These Knicks were bruisers led by Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason (and coached by Pat Riley). Earlier in the season, Phil Jackson complained New York was employing bully ball on purpose to hurt his Bulls. Against Charlotte’s Alonzo Mourning, that tension was amplified despite Zo and Ewing being good friends from their shared connection as former Georgetown players. This game goes to double overtime, full of bullies and enforcers.
Pair with: A kettlebell workout.
If You Want to Watch a Hot Hand at Work, Watch This:
January 22, 2006: Raptors vs. Lakers
Better known as Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game, this entry could’ve also been called:
- If You Have a Personal Vendetta Against Sam Mitchell, Watch This:
- If Your Kink Is Bad Basketball Strategy, Watch This:
- If Your Social-Distancing Coping Method Is Sadism, Watch This:
- If Canada Once Deported You and You’re Still Mad About It, Watch This:
- If You’re Morally Opposed to Double Teams, Watch This:
There was probably no stopping Kobe that night, regardless of defensive strategy. He finished 28-for-46 from the field and 7-for-13 from 3. Raptors guard Mike James later said Kobe had “relentlessness in his eyes, like a weird look in his eyes.” But this game is remarkable for reasons beyond its protagonist. It’s just as entertaining to see one of the best scorers reach a mark only one man had ever reached before as it is to see a team rendered helpless before him.
“We figured if we stop Kobe and make him shoot jump shots early, we’d have a better chance at winning,” James said. The Raptors didn’t think anyone else on the Lakers was capable of running up the score. Really, no one was. The bench scored five points, and two players besides Kobe reached double figures: Chris Mihm (12 points) and Smush Parker (13 points). Kobe agreed with Toronto that he was all L.A. had; when a reporter reminded him in 2018 that Parker was the Lakers’ second-leading scorer that game, he said, “Now you know why I had to score 81.” (If you have time, and I know you do, please do a deep dive on everything Kobe ever said about Parker, including his 2012 comment: “He shouldn’t have been in the NBA, but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. So we let him walk on.” And the story Parker told on Highly Questionable in 2014 about Kobe telling him that he wasn’t allowed to talk to him in practice.)
“We thought the best way [to guard Kobe] is probably to just stay at home and guard him one-on-one, don’t double-team him,” said Jay Triano, who was a Raptors assistant coach at the time. It made no sense then and makes no sense now, but Toronto tried a committee of individual defenders on the man to no effect. Kobe scored 18 points on Jalen Rose, whose length was supposed to disrupt Kobe, 17 on Morris Peterson, eight on James, seven on Joey Graham, five on Matt Bonner, four on José Calderón, four on Chris Bosh, three on Pape Sow, and the rest in transition.
Pair with: A stress ball.
If You Want to Watch Masterful Passing, Watch This:
November 1, 2019: Lakers vs. Mavericks
Of course two of the best offenses in the Lakers and Mavs and individual basketball minds in Luka Doncic and LeBron made a classic performance out of a November game. Both finished with triple-doubles: LeBron racked up 39 points, 16 assists, and 12 rebounds, and Doncic, 31 points, 15 assists, and 13 rebounds. The game went to overtime, and was also a statement moment for LeBron’s season—or as Paolo Uggetti wrote earlier this month, a Heisman moment—early on.
Pair with: A double-wick candle.
If You Want to Watch the Next Coming, Watch This:
January 22, 2020: Spurs vs. Pelicans
Honestly, you can nap through the first three quarters of Zion Williamson’s debut. Or read a book! Write a poem. Just wake up for the fourth quarter, a confirmation that Zion is the future and the present, with a magnificently large-and-in-charge performance that broke multiple records and completed his 22-points-in-18-minutes debut.
Pair with: A muscle relaxer.
If You Want to Watch Two Guys in a Duel, Watch This:
May 22, 1988: Hawks vs. Celtics
Larry Bird battling Dominique Wilkins in Game 7 was so consuming that Scott Hastings bet people in the crowd peed their pants. “I’ll bet you less than 2 percent of the people left their seats in the fourth quarter,” Hastings said in 2013. “There were probably guys that wet themselves because you didn’t want to get up.” It’s considered one of the greatest Game 7s and individual player matchups ever, and you can watch it from the comfort of your own home, with a pause button, and a bathroom, and full agency to not pee your pants.
Pair with: An old Western movie.
If You Want to FaceTime Your Relatives and Watch Together, Watch This:
May 6, 1989: Bulls vs. Cavaliers
If you’re on a mission to rewatch the classics, Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference first round should be in your top five. Michael Jordan’s buzzer-beater is so unparalleled that it’s referred to as The Shot. The Shot. In the history of the NBA, there have been 10,446,995 shots, and that’s just the ones taken in the regular season. Jordan alone took 24,537 in the regular season. Of all those millions of shots, this is still the one with the definitive The fastened in front.
Pair with: An explicit conversation with family members on the collective responsibility to stay indoors!
If You Want to See Kyrie Before All the Weird Stuff, Watch This:
June 19, 2016: Cavaliers vs. Warriors
If you like chasedown blocks, and clutch 3s, and happy tears, and piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain:
Pair with: Games 5 and 6.