MIAMI—Legacies are generally determined after the fact, written by others, imposed on the subject without their input. For the last three years, LeBron James has endured daily revisions to his legacy, a chorus of critics framing his career based on a single game, a single series, the shots that swished and those that missed, never waiting for a fuller picture to emerge.
James at last seized control of his own narrative on Thursday night, leaving nothing to chance and no more room for debate. He drove hard, shot brilliantly, scored every critical basket and finally pushed the Miami Heat past the San Antonio Spurs for a 95-88 victory in Game 7 of the NBA finals.
“For me, I can’t worry what everybody say about me,” James said on the championship stage, the red-and-white confetti raining all around him, the crowd shrieking in agreement.
A year after securing his first title, James claimed his second, with a 37-point, 12-rebound finale, closing out a taut series against the Spurs, who were seeking their fifth title with Tim Duncan.
“Every night I walk into the locker room and I see No. 6 with James on the back, I’m blessed,” James said. “So whatever anybody says about me, I got no worries.”
The Heat join the Los Angeles Lakers as the only team to repeat in the post-Jordan era. They did it by becoming just the fourth team to win Games 6 and 7 at home after facing a 3-2 deficit.
“They played Hall of Fame basketball tonight,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said of James and Dwyane Wade. “That’s some of the best basketball they both played at the same time throughout the entire playoffs, from what I saw.”
Duncan, one of the greatest big men to play the game, lost in the finals for the first time in his five appearances, and perhaps bowed off this stage for the final time. At age 37, he might not get another chance.
“I still have Game 6 in my head,” said Manu Ginobili, who scored 18 points. He added, “Being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy and then seeing it vanish, is very hard.”
James hit a 17-footer with 5 minutes 37 seconds to play, staking Miami to an 83-77 lead. The Spurs got sloppy, passes by Tony Parker and Ginobili sailing out of bounds for turnovers. But the Spurs kept coming.
When James hit a jumper, Ginobili answered with a 3-pointer. When Shane Battier hit a 3-pointer for an 88-82 lead, Duncan countered with a 3-point play. After Wade sliced in for a layup, Kawhi Leonard responded with a 3-pointer.
With the Heat holding a 2-point lead and the pressure building, Mario Chalmers missed two free throws. Duncan, the four-time champion, missed two shots from close range.
With 39 seconds to go, the Heat’s lead stood at 90-88. James nailed an 18-footer to give the Heat a cushion, the crowd erupting as it connected. The MVP chants came next, as James finished off the game with two free throws.
Jordan and Russell
There was no diminishing the moment, its historic importance, its impact on the careers of everyone involved. Even James, who is constantly fighting against the notion that every game is a referendum on his legacy, readily admitted this would be “one of the biggest games, if not the biggest game, of my life.”
James finished 12 for 23 from the field, setting a finals career high with five 3-pointers.
David Stern, who is stepping down as commissioner next February, handed the trophy over for the 30th and final time, and handed the finals MVP trophy to James, his second straight. James joined Michael Jordan and Bill Russell—for whom the finals MVP trophy is named—as the only players to win back-to-back regular-season MVP awards and NBA titles.
James scored 28 points over the first three quarters. Apropos of the series, neither team could get any separation. The Heat led by 2 points after one quarter, by 2 points at halftime and by one point after three quarters.
Chalmers closed the third period with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass for a 72-71 edge.
Parker struggled through a miserable shooting night, shooting 3 of 12 for 10 points. Danny Green, whose brilliant 3-point shooting at times carried the Spurs in this series, also faltered, shooting 1 of 12 from the field for 5 points.
This time, the clutch shooting came from Battier, reprising his performance from last year’s finals. He scored 18 points, including six of eight 3-pointers.
This was just the fourth seven-game finals in the last 20 years, and was as riveting as any of them, for the personalities it featured and for the way it unfolded.
The Spurs and Heat alternated victories for six games, neither team able to shake the other. It opened with the Spurs stealing home-court advantage in Game 1, on Parker’s game-sealing circus shot. The next four games were decided by double digits—each team giving a momentary impression of dominance until the roles were suddenly reversed.
Leaving nothing to chance
Then came an epic Game 6—the Spurs closing within seconds of the title, the security ropes set and the trophy waiting in the wings. Then a Ray Allen 3-pointer, an overtime, a Heat victory, a celebration postponed, a series pushed to the nail-biting brink.
Just 48 hours had passed since that game, hardly enough time for anyone to regenerate emotionally or physically, or for the Spurs to get over a loss that Popovich plainly admitted was “devastating.”
There was no evident hangover, however, and no crisis of confidence on the San Antonio bench. Parker kept attacking. Duncan kept pushing his way to the rim. The Spurs leaped ahead by 7 points, fell behind by 6 points, erased the deficit and finally entered halftime down by a single basket, 46-44.
James and Wade left nothing to chance, asserting themselves early and combining for 29 points in the half. Duncan and Parker nearly matched them, with 23 points.
Most difficult thing
Whether it was fatigue or anxiety at work, everyone stumbled through the first quarter, shots clanking and passes flying where they shouldn’t. The Heat put together the first serious run, 11-1, built on three 3-pointers from Battier.
Two years ago, James and Wade suffered the indignity of watching the Dallas Mavericks celebrate a championship on their home court. Twelve months ago, the Heat cleansed their souls with their own championship party on the American Airlines Arena floor. Win again, and the feeling would last another year. Lose, and the doubts would swell once more.
“It’s never the same,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said earlier. “It’s always the most difficult thing you’ll ever do collectively.”