In spite of its legacy of East-West rivalries, the NBA has never before seen the same two teams make the finals in three straight years.

By Tim Balk
May 26, 2017

Having rolled through their respective conferences, the Cavaliers and Warriors are set to clash in the finals for the third straight year this June. The streak is a first in NBA history, and a rarity in general in American sports. It will only be the fourth time ever in the four major American sports leagues the same two teams have played in three consecutive championship series. 

The New York Giants beat the New York Yankees in two World Series before the Yankees got revenge in a third year in the 1920s. The Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions met in three straight title games from 1952 to 1954, with the Lions winning the first two and Cleveland winning the third. And the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens faced off in three consecutive Stanley Cup finals from 1954 to 1956 as Detroit won the first two and Montreal captured the third. And... that's it: Those were the only three times in major American sports that two franchises played each other in back-to-back-to-back championships before this year. 

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To be sure, the NBA itself has its own legacy of East-West rivalries, highlighted by the long-running history between the Celtics and Lakers. Those two teams ruled over many time periods in similar fashion to the current dominance displayed by Golden State and Cleveland. There have been other near-trilogies between franchises over the years, too. 

Chicago and Utah met in back-to-back years in 1997 and 1998, with Jordan's Bulls bullying the Jazz both years to cap off their dynasty on a high. And in 2008 and 2010, the Celtics and Lakers met, taking a break in 2009 when Boston lost Kevin Garnett to a season-ending knee injury. 

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In the 1980s, at the height of the rivalry between Larry Bird's Celtics and Magic Johnson's Lakers, the teams met three times in four seasons between 1983 and 1987. The Lakers won two out of three. And before that, the Lakers and 76ers met in the 1980, 1982 and 1983 NBA finals. In the late 1970s, the Seattle Supersonics and Washington Bullets faced off in consecutive finals. Earlier in the decade, the Lakers and Knicks did the same.

Perhaps most notable would be the 1960s, a decade ruled by the Celtics and Lakers which saw the two franchises play six finals in eight years against each other. But, again, never three straight. 

As early as the 1950s, the then-Minneapolis Lakers played the Knicks in two straight finals. A walk down NBA finals memory lane reveals that the NBA finals has often seen the same teams duking it out for titles. 

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Against that backdrop, the Warriors and Cavaliers will leave an indelible imprint on NBA history when they face off this June. With LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant all in their primes, it seems entirely possible the historical streak will have legs for more years to come.

Once again, it has been left to the Cavaliers to put a stop to Golden State's dominance after the rest of the West could not. And, once again, it has been left to Golden State to knock off LeBron James and the Cavaliers after they ripped through the East. 

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