MIAMI -- Remember the brassy battle cry of 2010, the one that breathed fire into this blueprint in the first place? The "not one, not two, not three … ?"
Let's settle on four. Only four lonely individuals remain on this basketball planet who didn't want this to happen, who didn't share the bold vision of the franchise, who thought teaming three All-Stars would ruin the NBA and who wanted LeBron's headband to slip around his neck and tighten. Maybe that's the most amazing thing the Miami Heat just pulled off, even more than the blood they shed while winning a second straight championship the tough way. LeBron James and the Heat have surely and completely changed the way they're perceived by showing the grit, talent and class of winners and earning the respect that comes with that.
The NBA Finals, tense and mostly terrific 'til the very end, demanded their best. The San Antonio Spurs demanded their best. And the public, as you know by now, demanded nothing less than their best. You know, championship or choke.
And so, with 27 seconds left in Game 7, the game's best player and the league's best team finally pulled away, from the Spurs and those four stubborn haters, and fell into a place in history. Heat 95, Spurs 88. Heat four games, Spurs three. The Heat won and those who appreciate stirring basketball served entertainingly, well, they won, too.
"This is a special moment for this franchise," said Dwyane Wade. "It's a special moment for Miami."
There was a fair measure of doubt in the air on Thursday, and really all series long, whether Miami could wrap this up. Then Ray Allen's three-pointer in the final seconds of regulation in Game 6 made it seem like destiny. And that was followed up with plenty of LeBron and composure down the stretch of Game 7. And when Tim Duncan inexplicably missed a finger roll and a chance to tie with less than a minute left, it gave everyone the green light to exhale.
When the buzzer sounded and the confetti fell and the noise level rose at American Airlines Arena, do you know what the Heat did? Did you expect some jersey-pulling and primal screams and other forms of showboating, as a way of rubbing their success in everyone's faces? Did you figure they'd fall into the stereotype that others created for them these last three years?
No. There was none of that. Here's what they did: They immediately reached out to Duncan to tell him how much he scared the hell out of them, to Gregg Popovich to show their respect, to Tony Parker to express gratitude for a grueling and suspenseful series, and to Manu Ginobili to lift his spirits. They played like champs and then carried themselves like champs.
"Through everything we've been through," said LeBron, "we've been able to persevere and win back to back. This is what it's all about. Two championships in three years so far. The ultimate."
It's hard to win a title, harder still when you're expected to win, and harder-times-three when you must go through a clever team like the Spurs and do it in a winner-take-all game where anything can happen. This journey by the Heat wasn't one of those out-of-nowhere climbs to the top, or anyone's idea of a Cinderella story, or a team that overcame some kind of grave situation or circumstance. None of that. But it was a confirmation for what owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley pulled off when they created a way to bring LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh together and allow Erik Spoelstra to coach them. You don't have to call it a dynasty but you must recognize it as dominance.
"The vision I had when I decided to come here is coming true," said LeBron. "It's an unbelievable feeling. I don't want to think about next year right now, or what our possibilities are. Got to take full advantage of this one. An unbelievable moment for our team."
LeBron now has twice as many championships as Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, more than Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing and just as many as Wilt Chamberlain. He's still trailing Jordan and Kobe but his career, even after four MVPs and two titles, is still in the development stage. The final two games of the Finals, when he bore through the Spurs to twice fight off elimination with 69 points and 22 rebounds, was a showcase for his greatness.
He had all the help he needed. Wade's knees needed oiling but they stayed springy long enough to produce 23 points and 10 rebounds in the clincher. Bosh went scoreless Thursday but his big offensive rebound late in Game 6 made Game 7 necessary. And look what came as a bonus. Shane Battier, shades of Mike Miller in Game 5 last year against Oklahoma City, sank six clutch three-pointers in the moment of truth. Not one, not two. Six.
"We needed every inch of what everyone gave," said Wade. "We just continued to trust and believe. This is a total team here and even though it's led a lot of nights by LeBron, myself and Chris, everyone on the team chips in and gives us something when we need it."
More than anything, this was about LeBron. Not his legacy; please. Enough of that. Winning or losing this series would not serve as a referendum for his career or his decision to come to Miami. That was a convenient angle for media folk and the public but so far from reality. LeBron is already one of the greatest players ever, and if you don't believe that, then go ask some of the greats. He already had a title. He already proved that leaving Cleveland was the right thing to do, and the way he left -- sloppy in some regards -- drew a strong reaction that was way over the top. But that's all over and done with.
This was about LeBron because none of this would be possible without him. Remember when some would have you believe LeBron came to Miami to ride Wade's coattails? How laughable is that now? If anything, Wade was the one pulled along for the ride. And Bosh. And Riley. And Arison. And the entire franchise. LeBron made it all happen, turned Miami into a basketball destination.
And he isn't done yet.
"Hopefully people will leave him alone," Battier said. "He's the best player on the planet. Hopefully now with two titles he'll get more of the benefit of the doubt."
There's no reason to beg and plead with the public anymore for acceptance. All the skeptics and those still hung up on 2010 are mostly gone, their ashes scattered by two straight titles by the Heat and the vortex created by LeBron. Maybe four such people still exist, still think of arrogance and crimes against competitive balance when they think of the Heat.
As long as they also think of what's happened the last two summers, then it's all good. Two good.