Schmeelk: Classic NBA Finals Should Help Redefine ‘Greatness’ And ‘Legacy’
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By John Schmeelk
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The NBA season couldn’t have ended on a better note.
The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat gave America one of the best seven-game series in NBA history. It doesn’t happy very often, after a series is over, you still aren’t sure which was the better team. If the Spurs and Heat played 10 games, I’m convinced each would win five.
The Heat earned their second championship in as many years by simply making more plays than the Spurs. San Antonio had its chances and didn’t make them count, whether it was Tim Duncan’s missed layup, or all the turnovers and missed threes.
LeBron James, on the other hand, made the plays he needed to. So did Dwyane Wade. The Spurs forced those guys to make jump shots all series long, and they finally did in Game 7. They made the shots that the Spurs couldn’t.
I doubt it will be the case, but this series should put all those outdated and nauseating LeBron narratives out to pasture once and for all. He is an NBA champion and put his team on his back in both Games 6 and 7. Is he a scorer the quality of Michael Jordan? No. But who cares? He’s great in his own right, and will go down as one of the most dominant and unique players in NBA history. Not many players go to four NBA Finals (three straight), and win back-to-back championships. If you want to hate LeBron for the way he handled “The Decision,” that’s fine. But stop trying to disparage his skills as a basketball player. That ship has sailed.
When fans determine a team or player’s legacy, I hope they think back to this series and learn to take a moment to gain some perspective. Winning a championship is hard. You can be a great player and still not win a title. Is Tim Duncan — who has four of his own titles — any less great because his team couldn’t win one of two games in Miami to close out the series? He was still the best player on his team at age 37 (take a moment and consider how impressive that is) and posted one of the best halves in Finals history in Game 6. He wasn’t even on the floor when the Heat made the two threes that won them that game. Was that his fault? Is he tarnished for that? Do you think less of him? You would be a fool if you did.
What if Ray Allen missed that baseline three and James never had a chance to have a dominant Game 7? Would his ridiculous Game 6 fourth-quarter performance not have counted or been less impressive? It would be completely illogical. All sports, even basketball, which is more dependent on stars than other sports, is a team game. LeBron needed Shane Battier to get hot to beat the Spurs. Players also need great coaches to put them in the position to succeed, something both Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra did in this series. It isn’t about one guy. In fact, the Spurs were so great because of their spectacular team play, not any individual star.
This should also apply to some of the great NBA players that never won a title, like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing. Their greatness shouldn’t be tarnished by the fact they never had a supporting cast good enough to win a championship. They were still great players. Are they in Jordan’s or LeBron’s class? Even Bird or Magic? No, but they were still great. Perhaps in better circumstances they could be top 10 all-time players. It’s an illogical standard.
The Spurs were a great team and they couldn’t do it this year. Winning a title takes not only skill, but also a certain amount of timing and good fortune. All of the stars must align. A small play by someone who isn’t even footnote in the NBA can win or lose a championship. That’s why it can’t be the be-all and the end-all, and fans should remember that the next time they are asked whether or not someone like Barkley was an all-time great.
I’m already craving basketball, and looking forward to next year’s season to start. You really can’t blame me considering how much fun watching this series the last two weeks has been. Don’t forget this series, and not only because of how well played it was. Remember it because of the lessons it taught us about the game and some of its best players.
– At least the NBA draft is next week, and then free agency, giving us something to talk about until next October. Starting on Monday, I’ll break down the Knicks’ draft options and where I think they need to go. (Preview: an athlete that can guard multiple positions and run the floor.)
A couple other NBA Finals notes:
– I feel terribly for Tim Duncan. He missed a few easy shots in the second half, and that missed gimme will haunt him for a long time. He deserves better than that.
– What class by Gregg Popovich and every other player on the floor for the post game hugs and handshakes. It was very obvious how much respect both teams had for one another.
– I wonder if this series would have been a little different if Tony Parker never re-injured his hamstring.
– Is Manu Ginobli really a member of the Heat?
– You knew… just knew Shane Battier would eventually show up in this series. There he was.
– How much does Dwyane Wade have left? Will the knee heal in the offseason?
– I think Erik Spoelstra will be coaching the Heat long after LeBron leaves.
– How much will Miami change this roster in the offseason? Will Bosh and Wade both be back?
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and New York sports.
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