|Posted on June 21, 2013 at 5:10 PM|
The buzzer sounded. Perhaps the greatest pair of back-to-back games in NBA history was over. We had seen the last horrid Manu Ginobili pass of the series (although I still wouldn’t trust him to toss me a Gatorade bottle in the locker room, even if our lockers were right next to each other), Chris Boshasaurus became the closest player to getting traded without actually getting traded, despite going for the bagel in the biggest game of his career after getting a full-fledged ass-kicking from 37-year-old Tim Duncan the game before.
And the San Antonio Spurs became the closest team to winning a championship without actually winning it (except the ’86 Red Sox, and maybe the ’88 Pistons). I was absolutely devastated. The Spurs play better fundamental and team basketball than any other organization in the league. They were complete bad-asses going toe-to-toe with the best team in the league for seven games despite injuries, age, and no home court advantage, always fighting back, never folding, even when one of those big Miami runs seemed inevitable.
This was San Antonio’s series. In Game 6, they were one more made free-throw, one defensive rebound, one questionable no-call, and 28 seconds away from joining Jordan’s Bulls, Magic’s Lakers, and Russell’s Celtics, as the only teams to win five championships with a core group of players. The Heat were 28 seconds away from having to blow up their team. LeBron James was 28 seconds away from being considered not clutch again. We were 28 seconds away from three months’ worth of dumb “Where will LeBron go in 2014?” SportsCenter segments starring Kurt Rambis. And we were 28 seconds away from the Miami Heat Welcome Party being hilarious again.
For the first 23 quarters of the series, the Spurs slowed down LeBron. They got two potential vintage closeout games from Tim Duncan (30-17 and 24-12-4). They got Greensanity for five full games. The Spurs did 99.9% of what they needed to do to win this series. It seemed almost unfair that they had to lose the championship.
David Stern got up on the podium to give robotic congratulations to everyone involved. It couldn’t have worked out better for Stern; he gets to retire after an awesome NBA Finals… oh wait, he has eight more months to go in the most awkward retirement in sports history. As Miami received the trophy, I was just getting over the Spurs’ losing; the Heat made plays when it counted most and they were undeniably the most dominant team for the vast majority of the past eight months.
Then Bill Russell came out to present the Finals MVP trophy. To everyone’s surprise, the trophy was not awarded to San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, but rather to LeBron James. As his name was announced, LeBron tried to grab the trophy out of Bill Russell’s hand, stood pompously for a few seconds, then spent the an entire interview ranting about nobody but himself, and I was reminded, once again, why I had rooted for the Spurs in this series, and why I will never root for LeBron James.
Check out a video I made comparing LeBron’s interview with that of Bill Russell following Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals, in which Russell won the last of his 11 NBA championships. Click here to watch it.
Good lord! Bill Russell’s unselfishness warranted the Allen Iverson “Practice” style counter to track how many times he references his teammates. I love this comparison because both James and Russell are asked about the public’s perception of them; Russell refuses to talk about himself, but LeBron states, “I’m LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio…”
If it weren’t for Ray Allen’s game-tying three Tuesday night, Chris Bosh’s offensive rebound and block in Game 6, or Shane Battier’s six threes last night, LeBron would have a repeat of the 2011 Finals on his hands, but no mention of them.
It was the same story in the postgame press conference, when a reporter commented, “When you’re making shots like that, you’re totally unstoppable,” and LeBron replied, “Yea, I am! I was one of the best mid-range shooters in the game, and I shot a career high from the three-point line.”
My friend, Chris Kim, a huge LeBron fan, expressed his concern with my scrutiny of LeBron’s attitude. He wrote, “[LeBron’s] had one of the heaviest burdens on his back last year, and being down 2-3 in the Finals, the accomplishments and hard work that LeBron put into this thing consumed him. This society has targeted and molded LeBron's mindset so much that LeBron can't be just fluid and happy about his wins and be genuine.”
But here’s the thing: LeBron brought the target upon himself. Checking out against Boston in 2010, The Decision, the Welcome Party, flopping, his arrogant post-game press conference after the 2011 Finals, etc.
LeBron can no longer be justifiably criticized for his performance on the court. I can’t even criticize him for not being clutch, now that he holds the highest career Game 7 scoring average with 34.4. After playing 184 games in the last 18 months (plus Olympics), he put up 22 points and 9 rebounds in the second half alone last night. He just shut down David West (6’9’’, 240 lbs) and Tony Parker (6’2’’, 185 lbs) in back-to-back playoff series. The man has two championships to show for it, and, at only 28 years of age, his six combined MVP and Finals MVP awards rank behind only Michael Jordan's 11, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 8.
But it’s also about little things. He’s the only superstar that sets picks, cuts, and boxes out. And when he talks about how he gets greater joy out of an assist than a made shot, he really means it.
That being said, LeBron won’t become the greatest basketball player of all time. Michael Jordan led the league in scoring every single full season he played from 1986 to 1998 and won six out of six NBA Finals, never needing a Game 7 to finish off an opponent. There was never a doubt that Jordan would come through. On the flip side, LeBron’s first two embarrassing Finals losses won’t disappear, the near-loss in this series won’t disappear, and his several no-shows in crucial playoff games won’t disappear.
But, most importantly, what he does off the court won’t disappear. We’ll talk about LeBron’s legacy, dissect his every move, and judge him until the minute he retires, because LeBron’s declaration of the number of championships he’ll win - “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” – won’t disappear. LeBron’s attitude has put an enormous burden on his back for the rest of his career, and although last night was a huge step towards legendary status for LeBron, the scrutiny will remain. After all, he’s still got like six more championships to go.
A few other notes from Game 7:
Manu Ginobili in the postgame press conference: "It's a big disappointment. Me, I still have Game 6 in my head." Ladies and Gentlemen, you're 2013 NBA Finals LVP! You know how Gregg Popovich probably feels about Manu’s series?
That got me thinking… you know how Charles Barkley probably feels about Manu’s series?
Danny Green did give Ginobili a run for his money in the LVP race with an unfathomable 1/12 shooting, 0 assists, and an official NBA Finals record fifty times making me jump off my couch screaming, “Why the hell is Danny Green dribbling into a trap and then picking up his dribble?” or “Holy s***! I think someone actually might be more useless inside the three-point line than Steve Novak!”
As of today, Boris Diaw’s resume includes the following things: (1) He is the only NBA player who can consistently make successful entry passes from the top of the key (2) He is officially the fattest player to ever make a three in a Game 7 (3) He was 12th in the league in assists in 2005-2006, ahead of Tony Parker (this is by far my favorite little known fact in NBA history)
I can’t stress enough how dreadful Chris Boshasaurus’s 0/5 shooting, 5 fouls performance was. Two out of every three tweets I read last night were something along the lines of “Too bad Chris Bosh missed Game 7,” and the Heat didn’t even lose the game! He’s lucky Miami pulled it out, because I was getting ready to tweet, “At least the Boshasaurus species held out for 65 million years before going extinct.” Sometime during the fourth quarter I tried to figure out how Chris Bosh, a rich-man’s Brandon Bass at best, is making the same amount of money as LeBron this year, but my head started to hurt so I started thinking about things that actually make sense, like why Gregg Popovich took Tim Duncan out at the end of Game 6… oh wait, that doesn’t make any sense either.
Reporter: "How are you going to get your team ready to go into Game 7?"
Gregg Popovich: "We're going to get on the bus - it arrives at the ramp over there.” [He actually pointed toward the parking area] “We get off the bus, we get on the court, and we play.”
I still think Pop is the greatest coach of all time, but have mixed feelings about his performance in this series. On one hand, he nearly won a championship with Danny Green and Tiago Splitter started for him, his team defended LeBron excellently for the majority of the series, and his complex offense befuddled the Heat for extended periods of time. However, (1) He never found an answer to the LeBron + Birdman + shooters lineup whatsoever, (2) He mysteriously benched Tim Duncan, allowing the Heat to grab two offensive rebounds, both leading to threes that kept Miami in the series, (3) His putting Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter on Dwyane Wade in Game 4 backfired miserably, (4) It took him until the second half of Game 7 to figure out that Kawhi Leonard could abuse Mike Miller in the post.
Kawhi gives me hope for the Spurs next year. After a near Finals MVP performance (15 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals per game, A+ defense, A+ corn-rows, A+ facial on Mike Miller, A+ young Manu Ginobili Impersonation) at age 21, he should be ready to replace Ginobili as part of the Big 3 as early as next season. I expect him to give Kevin Durant everything he can handle in the playoffs next year. We’ve counted out the Spurs too many times in the Popovich-Duncan era; let’s not do it again.
Please share this article with your friends, and comment to share your opinion!