Nobody was as anti-LeBron than I was in the year 2013. Thank God I wasn’t on Twitter. I already have tons of opinions I’m sure I’ll be ashamed of once somebody reminds me of what I said.
“How dare LeBron leave the poor people of Cleveland behind?” spurns my unbridled hatred for an athlete with little to no control over why the world is shit. I felt I’ve reached the mountain top when Dirk Nowitzki overcame the odds and the Mavericks topped the stacked Miami Heat in 2011. I wanted the Durant-led Thunder to do the same. For a while, it looked like they would. The young Thunder charged back from down 13 in the fourth to cut the deficit to four with little over five-minutes left. James Harden nailed a critical three, only for Miami to answer with veteran guard Shane Battier to come right back with a long distance drain of his own.
While there was a lot of time left in the contest, I knew that was the end of the Thunder right then and there. Outside of Wade, LeBron and Bosh, Miami couldn’t count on production. Them being unable to keep Battier in check gave Miami enough to escape Oklahoma City with the win and avoid a 2-0 series deficit. Also, it put the young Thunder on their heels. Games 3 and 4 played out the same way. The extremely feisty Thunder falling short because of poor late game execution. LeBron’s history of shortcomings in these situations made him a better player in the long run. Durant and his trio had a lot to learn.
So, here we are in 2013. My hate still strong for LeBron, and my love for the San Antonio Spurs growing since the Boston Celtics are no longer serious contenders. In my mind, the Spurs are the Celtics of the East. Tim Duncan is their grizzled Kevin Garnett. Manu Ginobili is Paul Pierce. And Kawhi Leonard is the bridge to the next generation, which was in my mind Rajon Rondo.
Heading into 2013, this was the first championship series San Antonio was involved in that wasn’t expected to be a dud. Nobody liked the ‘99 series versus the Knicks. Or the ‘03 series vs New Jersey. Though the Pistons series in ‘05 went seven-games, nobody liked either of those teams and the games often ended in epic rock fights. Had San Antonio not dropped four straight versus Oklahoma City in 2012, they’d meet the Heat as the likely favorites. Having perfected team basketball right before the three-point revolution. Late career stage Duncan was still a top guy. Manu still had his fast ball. Tony Parker was one of, if not the best floor general on the league despite being thirty.
The league in 2013 found the perfect balance between prioritizing size, pace and pace before ultimately jettisoning size entirely. Castoffs like Boris Diaw found new life in a spurs uniform, as did DeJuan Blair, each averaging five points and three rebounds in their bit roles backing up Duncan and Tiago Splitter. 28-year old Gary Neal became a sharp shooter from three-point distance. Neal came alive in San Antonio’s game three 36-point demolishing of Miami, where Neal torched them for 24. Neal went undrafted and debuted in the NBA at 26. Only San Antonio can find talent in the scrap heap.
Heading into game six, up 3-2 all the talk focused on LeBron. “What does it mean for his legacy if he blows it?” nobody cared about Duncan on the cusp of his fifth title and doing it against the second greatest player ever having the greatest individual season since Shaq in 2001 or M.J in ‘96. The only question making the rounds on the hot take circuits was a tongue and cheek “should Popovich rest his starters for game seven?” an obviously reference to when Pop rested a prime time game in Miami back in November. Duncan, Parker, Manu and Danny Green were DNP’d, which made David Stern publicly shame Popovich in interviews a day or so after.
The Spurs that day became rebels. Successors to the legacy of Allen Iverson. In Stern’s last season as the commissioner, I wanted to see his disgruntled body hand Popovich the trophy as the last thing he’ll ever do as head of the NBA.
For a while, it looked to be an all certainty the Spurs were about to complete my wet dream. They lead by thirteen in the third, but even i knew you can’t count the great players out. LeBron tossed away his headband and I knew what we were about to see was an aggressiveness never before unleashed by him. Damn it all to Hell, he bombed off shots and some actually went in. The bricks were hard ones off the backboard. But the Spurs fumbled rebounds and allowed Miami shooters to leak out and recover. Miami struck back hard. But dispute Manu and Kawhi missing two of their four late situation free throws, all the Spurs needed for the biggest win in their franchise history was one rebound.
Duncan was hot as fire. 13-21, 30 points and sixteen boards. The “Big Fundamental” wanted to kill the LeBron vs Jordan discussion that night in the American Airlines Arena. Like like an old gunslinger going against the new hot shot in town, Timmy had nothing left but his stubborn bravery in the face of uncertainty. Up 95-92, Mike Miller just fouled Kawhi who would go one of two from the charity stripe. Popovich subbed out his would be Finals MVP for Diaw in a brain cramp for the ages. This is like when Bill Belichick benched Malcolm Butler for the Super Bowl. Except, Belichick was right to take such a hasty gamble whereas Popovich was dead wrong.
A desperate LeBron fires a furious off a three that misses. All his anger amounts to nothing. He is at the end of his line. The ball is in the air, all the Spurs need to do to subject LeBron to another summer of people calling him “LeChoke” is grab the ball. Except, their best rebounder wasn’t in the game. Diaw didn’t get it either. Chris Bosh, the unheralded member of the “Heatles” snags it, kicks it to Ray Allen in the corner for a shot I knew was going in the moment it left his fingertips. “BANG!” Mike Breen says.
Bosh blocks Danny Green to force overtime and the trophy is rushed back to the locker room. The champagne and plastic covers are taken from the Spurs locker room.
From that point on, I knew Karma wasn’t real. Fans of the Heat who prematurely left rather than serenade their amazing squad with vocals ‘till the bitter end, rushed back to the arena. Some not gaining re-entry because they walked out the doors. This was to be the perfect encapsulation of everything wrong with Miami’s big 3. All flash. No substance. No heart. Only entitlement (I was fifteen, give me a break).
Instead, the Basketball Gods rewarded them and from that point on, I knew Miami was winning. I didn’t watch the overtime. I didn’t watch game 7. I knew what was going to happen. LeBron was going to win. Those poor people in Cleveland were about to get hurt again. Duncan’s miraculous turn back the clock performance was to be swept under the rug. The NBA was now LeBron’s domain. Hell, if Covid doesn’t cancel the 2020 postseason, it might very well still be his.
Allen’s three didn’t hurt me as a Celtics fan. It hurt me as a nihilist. I knew when he left Boston he was going to make a big shot like that. For some reason, I fixated on the fact Allen was wearing thirty four. No. Not Paul Pierce’s number. David Ortiz’! How dare he?! And to help our number one enemy to boot. I felt sick. This is before I knew sports is a cold, idiotic business. A complex ballet where destiny is in the hands of those in the field, court or ice. Not quite cinema, but close as you’re going to get.
So what if Duncan wasn’t subbed out? No way in God’s green earth was Allen missing that corner shot. It was his sweet spot.
Simple: Duncan wins Finals MVP, gets a week of publicity out of his triumph before ESPN shifts focus to the Little League World Series or something irrelevant. But NBA Heads know what Timmy accomplished. He beat the greatest team of the last decade. LeBron’s best squad. In six! Pure dominance and bravery. He didn’t quiver.
They steamroll Miami the next season for Duncan’s sixth title and the Spurs do something they’ve never done: repeat. To this day, I say Duncan is superior to LeBron because of rings and the fact TD got the best of Bron in their three finals matchup. Six versus two.
But this wasn’t the series Duncan even met his greatest match. The Pistons with Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace taking full advantage of the laxer defensive rules, beat Duncan senseless. His counting stats look amazing, but you could tell by watching him Duncan wasn’t in his zone. The Pistons should have won. But Sheed had a brain cramp of his own.
What’s lost in why San Antonio couldn’t close the deal is how errant Manu was. Everyone spent the summer giving 21-year old Kawhi shit for missing his free throws when Manu wasn’t any better at the line and turned the ball over a bunch (22 times!). Kawhi played lock down defense on the league’s best player and nobody gave a damn until after the fact. Just goes to show you, the NBA media is incredibly stupid and narrow minded.
Kawhi would have defeated LeBron twice on the grandest stage and brought a title to a place dubbed “LeBronto” when the King emasculated an entire country on national television the year before. Hell. Maybe I’d be saying he’s the GOAT.
How is LeBron’s legacy affected? Well, a reasonable person would tell you there’s no difference between losing six finals versus seven. Internet culture will have you believe loses in non-championship rounds don’t count as much against someone’s legacy. If Tom Brady loss the AFC Championship Game in 2007, 2011 and 2017 he’d be a perfect 6-0 in the big game. Just like Jordan. This is of course a loser mentality.
In the eyes of people like Skip Bayless, this solidifies LeBron as a frontrunner. A pretender to M.J’s crown. He needs to bow at the feet of Kobe and now Duncan. The real winners of the league. Perhaps we could rule him out as he GOAT since this would be the second time he had the better team in the finals and came up short. Add this to the list of LeBron failures of the 2010s. The Celtics running him out in Cleveland. J.J Barea giving him the business. Duncan emasculating him on his home floor, then Kawhi doing the same the next year until he is “forced” to run back to Cleveland. Failure. Failure. Failure.
Bron needed that ring to set him apart from the Kevin Garnett’s and Moses Malone’s of the world. Winners only after they flamed out of their original destination. Game six, 2013 was LeBron’s masterpiece under supreme unrest. Game seven was another classic from the standpoint of the outcome being a foregone conclusion. Unlike the Celtics of 2012, the Spurs had the stamina to hang with Bron in contested games six and seven. They gave him everything, but he and Miami hung tough to squeaked out a nail biter for the ages. Capping off a landmark season for LeBron. Every superstar needs a season where they owned the narrative, bagged the MVP and subsequently the championship. M.J had ‘96. Shaq had 2000. Bird had ‘86. And so on.
In 2013, the wrong team won. And just like the Lakers stealing a title from the Pistons in ‘88, the next year would prove to rectify the mistake as the defending champions were curb-stomped into oblivion.
The wrong team won. But the wrong decision was made. This was a LeBron haters worst day. At least the Spurs got revenge by turning off the air conditioning in game one making him cramp up. That was hilarious.