One of the two Northern California alums in this year’s NBA Finals has been called “the missing link” for his team to go all the way. The other has become a key starter and was even the leading scorer in an Eastern Conference finals’ game for his team. How do Aaron Gordon and Gabe Vincent rank among the best years in NBA Finals history for NorCal alums on different teams?
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(Managing editor Ronnie Flores contributed to this post.)
For the history of the NBA Finals, Northern California has a great place to start for a high school alum doing great things. That’s, of course, with the legendary Bill Russell of Oakland McClymonds and Boston Celtics’ fame. And for many of Russell’s championship seasons, guard K.C. Jones from Commerce of San Francisco was right there with them.
There are not many years, though, in which this year’s duo of starting players Aaron Gordon from Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and Gabe Vincent from St. Mary’s of Stockton can be matched by starting players on different teams.
You have to go back to 2007 when Drew Gooden of the Cleveland Cavaliers (from El Cerrito) and Bruce Bowen of the San Antonio Spurs (from Edison of Fresno) were starting players on opposing teams in the NBA Finals who went to Northern California high schools. Bowen also started for the Spurs in 2003 against Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets (from Alameda St. Joseph). There also was the 1993 Chicago Bulls with Bill Cartwright (Elk Grove) playing against the Phoenix Suns with Kevin Johnson (Sacramento High). The only other year we’d say was similar to Gordon and Vincent would be 1975 with Phil Smith of the Golden State Warriors (San Francisco Washington) and Phil Chenier of the Washington Bullets (Berkeley).
Gordon and Vincent were both standout players in high school. Gordon was of course more than that as he was Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year for both 2012 and 2013. Vincent didn’t get those kinds of accolades but as a junior in 2013 he was all-state for Division 2 and then as a senior in 2014 he was second team all-state overall (10 on first, 10 on second).
We saw both of them play their final games in high school. Gordon and his team at Mitty played in the very first CIF Open Division state final and fell to Mater Dei of Santa Ana (which was led by junior Stanley Johnson with 26 points), 50-45. He had 22 points and 12 rebounds. Vincent poured in 40 points in his last game at St. Mary’s, but it wasn’t enough in a 76-74 loss to Cosumnes Oaks of Elk Grove in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. Gabe had a good look at a possible game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer but the shot bounced off the back rim.
Gordon also had a more projectable NBA future. He played just one year at the University of Arizona and then went at No. 4 in the first round to the Orlando Magic. Vincent played a full four years at UC Santa Barbara and was undrafted. He worked his way up through the NBA G League, including one stint for his hometown Stockton Kings, and eventually got his shot with the Heat. When the team was last in the NBA Finals during the bubble season of 2020, Vincent was listed on the roster as a two-way G-League player. He never dressed or played a minute in that series, however.
Fast forward to today and Gordon is in his second year with the Nuggets after a trade with Orlando. With his ability to rebound, block shots, score in the paint and defend against elite players like LeBron James of the Lakers, he is the type of player that was missing from the Nuggets’ lineup when they lost to the Lakers in the 2020 NBA Western Conference finals. With Nikola Jokic playing like an MVP and Jamaal Murray returning to form after a knee injury, Gordon helped the Nuggets sweep the Lakers in this year’s conference finals.
“We are excited that AG is making the NBA Finals,” said Tim Kennedy, Aaron’s high school coach and still the head coach at Mitty. “It’s a great fit at Denver and it’s unique that he’s found a place where all they care about is doing everything to help the team win. He keeps getting better and stronger both physically and mentally.”
After Vincent scored a career high 29 points to lead the Heat to win over the Boston Celtics, the team only needed one more win for it to win in its conference finals via a sweep as well. That didn’t happen, though, as Boston came back to get three wins to force a Game Seven. Vincent had 10 points in that win for Miami after he had to miss Game 5 with a sprained ankle.
“Our staff and our school is having a surreal experience to see Gabe play at this level,” said current St. Mary’s head coach Ken Green, who also was Vincent’s head coach. “He’s not only competing at this level, but doing more than that.
“When people talk about the Heat culture, Gabe already had a lot of that in him. He made the game seem easy and he worked so hard at every practice.”
Green was asked if he could name the only other player from a Stockton high school who has been in the NBA Finals. He answered correctly: John Gianelli, a back-up center for the New York Knicks, in 1973 who is from Edison. The only other two players from a San Jose high school who have been in the NBA Finals have been Mark McNamara from Del Mar of San Jose (once for the 76ers and once for the Lakers) and Dennis Awtrey from Blackford of San Jose (once for the Supersonics and once for the Suns).