Wednesday, June 18, 2014

June 18, 2013: Diverging Fate

MIAMI - Down by three in game 6 of the NBA Finals, his Miami Heat seconds from elimination, Lebron James got the ball in his hands behind the arc, rose up for a 3-pointer, and missed.

Had the story ended right there, how different would James' legacy be? Had that missed three fallen into the hands of one of the San Antonio Spurs players, James would have lost in the NBA finals for the second time as a member of the Heat, for the third time overall. Even his staunchest defenders would have started to have some doubts then. Was he capable of winning the big one? Was he a true legend? Would he ever pass Jordan?

It wouldn't have mattered, of course, that he had a triple-double in Game 6, his second of the series, and that he had played at an often sublime level throughout most of the playoffs. It wouldn't have mattered that he was the unquestioned best player on the floor most of the series. It would have only mattered that he lost again. And just think, if the story had ended with that missed 3-pointer, James would right now be staring at a personal 1-4 record in NBA finals (assuming, of course, that the Spurs would have annihilated the Heat in 2014 again, which they likely would have). A legend isn't born out of a 1-4 finals record. 1-4 makes you Wilt, the player who was extremely talented but couldn't close the deal.

But the story didn't end after James' miss. Chris Bosh got the offensive rebound and kicked it out to Ray Allen, the best pure shooter of his generation. And Allen did what he did best, draining the 3 from the corner and tying the game. Instead of being choke artists, the Heat were clutch performers, coming back from being down 5 with 30 seconds to play. The yellow rope was already on the sideline in anticipation of a Spurs celebration when James made the first big three pointer; the rope was gone by the time Allen made his. It didn't come back out until Miami clinched the series two days later.

Game 6 of the 2013 NBA finals is going to be long remembered for its crazy finish. James' miss, Bosh's rebound, and Allen's bomb were just part of the story. There was San Antonio, somehow getting one last shot off before the buzzer. There was the overtime, where Bosh came up with two huge blocked shots, including one in the dying seconds. It was a crazy game, crazy in how close the Spurs came to winning the title, only to end up losing it. Crazy how the third- and fourth-best players for Miami were the ones who ended up coming up the biggest. Crazy that Gregg Popovich made a rare coaching mistake, leaving Tim Duncan on the bench for Miami's final shot and thus leaving the rebound there for Bosh's taking.

It was a crazy game, and one that will have a lasting effect on Lebron James' legacy. Because even though he missed, he still won the game and the title. A two-time champion looks a lot stronger than a one-time champion. Two-timers get remembered more.

One more crazy what-if from a crazy game: After Allen's shot, the officials went to the television monitor to make sure he was behind the line. While they huddled, the Spurs put Duncan back into the game, even though they shouldn't have been allowed to since they didn't have a timeout. It became a moot point since Tony Parker's potential game-winning shot came up short, but if Parker had made that shot to give the Spurs the title, all hell would have broken loose. Since Duncan was in the game illegally, the shot would not have counted. If the officials had not noticed until after the game was over, there could have been an awkward situation where the Spurs would have been handed the trophy, then told "never mind," and had it taken back so they could replay the final six seconds legally. It's an almost unfathomable situation that came perilously close to happening.

But it wouldn't have happened if James had just made that 3 to begin with. It's always Lebron's fault.

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