Five Huge Fails from NBA History

The NBA throws up some wonderful moments that fans remember for years.

It might be a shot on the court or the capture of a global superstar, but there are many examples of teams getting things right. This year, the Bucks did it, winning their first finals in 50 years. It was a huge success for them, and even the losing team, Phoenix Suns, could take pride in appearing in their first final since 1993.

However, for every success, there’s a failure. For every important draft pick, there’s a missed opportunity. Even in a regular season, some failures have fans scratching their heads in disbelief, and we’ve picked out five you may want to relive. Or not, depending on your team!

Nick Anderson Free Throws

Nick Anderson’s missed free throws in the 1995 final game could be seen as a pivotal moment for him and Orlando Magic. It was only their sixth NBA season, and with Shaq in the lineup, they looked unbeatable. Having swept almost everyone aside, they were up by three in the final seconds of game one, when Anderson missed two free throws. He was fouled again and immediately missed two more, with the Rockets tying the game at the buzzer. They went on to win game one, ended the final with a 4-0 whitewash and Shaq departed Orlando shortly after. Since then, they’ve only appeared in a single final, and they haven’t progressed beyond the first round in a decade.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade Mocking Opponent

In 2011, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks were tied 2-2 in the NBA finals. Dirk Nowitzki had suffered a sinus infection in game four, and before they played the fifth game, a video emerged of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade wiping their noses, coughing and sniggering. It was clearly a dig at Nowitzki, and Sports Rush confirms he took it to heart. He shrugged off his illness to score 29 points in game five to give his team a 3-2 series lead. Miami lost game six, handing the NBA Championship to the Mavericks.

JR Smith Loses Track

A mistake in the 2018 finals could claim the crown of the costliest fail ever. With the Cavaliers and Warrior tied in the final seconds, JR Smith believed his side was ahead and dribbled a rebound ball away from the hoop instead of shooting or passing. LeBron was left perplexed as the game went into overtime, with the Cavaliers eventually losing. From there, it was downhill; they conceded the series 4-0. The Cavs had been in four successive finals up to that point but haven’t featured in the showcase event since. They’re also likely to be among the outsiders with Coral for the 2022 season when it starts in October, having failed to secure a playoff slot for four years on the spin. Did Smith’s mistake knock their momentum, just as Nick Anderson’s missed shots 20 years prior?

James Harden Ghost Dunk

James Harden’s ghost dunk wasn’t as pivotal, but it was a monumental fail. Houston led the Spurs 102-89 when Harden charged forward unopposed for a dunk. It went through the hoop with such forced it came back up the outside and, in real-time, looked like a miss. The Rockets didn’t contest within 30 seconds, probably because they couldn’t believe it hadn’t been given. The Spurs went on to win 135-133, meaning the missed dunk cost them the game. It wasn’t a fail on a player’s part, but the bench for not contesting, and the officials for getting the call wrong.

Portland Blazers Drafts

The NBA draft is always an exciting time, but fans in Portland could be forgiven for thinking not. In his own right, Sam Bowie wasn’t a bad player. He was drafted second in the first-round in 1984 by the Portland Trail Blazers and had a career blighted by injury. The issue for many is he was drafted ahead of Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. History tells any NBA fan how that turned out. One such pick is perhaps luck, but to do it twice? In 2007, they were up for the first pick of the first round, and they opted for Greg Oden, a solid enough player. Seattle SuperSonics had the second pick, and they drafted Kevin Durant, a 12-time All-Star. Is there any wonder they’ve only been in the Conference finals three times since? Sadly for Portland fans, they’re likely to be outsiders for the upcoming season, having finished 13th in the Western Conference in 2021/22.