SAN ANTONIO — With a staggering 27 years between teams that have made four straight trips to The Finals, the Miami Heat live in a world none of their NBA peers could fathom.
The scrutiny (LeBron James is right, he is the “easiest target” in sports and has been for years), the pressure and all of the drama that comes with being on center stage this time of year, every year, for the last four years.
Knowing what they know now gives the Heat an even greater appreciation for what their opponent in these Finals, the four-time champion (since 1999) San Antonio Spurs, have been able to do over the past 16 seasons.
This whole “Built (Spurs) vs Bought (Heat)” debate does not resonate with the players fighting for this title. There is nothing but mutual respect and understanding of the rigorous grind that comes in playing to the final day of the season — be it for four straight years or six times in 16 years.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” said Heat point guard Mario Chalmers. “I know that’s tough. But they’ve got a great bunch of guys over there. They’ve been together through the thick and thin. They set the mold. Everybody wants to be that teams that goes to The Finals as many times as they have, to win four championships and do the things they’ve done. They’ve set the standard high.
The lessons the Spurs have had years to digest and adjust to the Heat have had to learn and adjust to on the fly. There hasn’t been a two or three-year period where the Heat adjust to the changes around the league, reshape and reload their roster and come back in championship form.
“Just what they’ve done with 50-plus wins every year, and having a chance to win it, every year, they’ve built some kind of formula,” Heat center Chris Bosh said. “They know what to do and they know how to use it.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls it corporate knowledge. It’s something that his biggest stars — most notably the Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — have devoured over the course of their careers. There’s no doubt that corporate knowledge has helped propel their longevity in a game that hasn’t always been kind to aging stars and dynasties.
The Heat are in the beginning stages of what could be an annual title chase for years to come. No one knows for sure. But they have a model, the Spurs’ model, staring them in the face at least for the remainder of this series.
“For us it’s been some kind of a sprint since coming together,” Bosh said comparing the Heat’s current path to the Spurs’ long-term work. “But we just try to make sure we compete every night and when you get a chance to win, you take it. You never want to take these opportunities for granted because we don’t know if we’ll ever make it back. We’re just enjoying everything and trying to be the best team we can possibly be. And I know [the Spurs] are doing the same.”
That would explain Bosh’s reluctance to try to place the Heat in any sort of historical context before their run ends. He hasn’t taken the bait, despite being asked about it constantly.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do first,” he said. “I know everybody is going to make the comparisons and ask who would have won what? LJ or MJ (Michael Jordan)? We know that’s coming. But we keep our heads down and work right now. That’s what it’s all about. Focus individually on each single pass and each step along the road of wherever we’re going.”
The Spurs have just as much riding on this series in terms of historical context. It’s no secret. And that’s why there is no need for added or manufactured motivation. Not with a third straight title on the line for the Heat and a fifth overall for the Spurs.
“Being here is fire enough,” Bosh said. “Look, it’s tough chasing ghosts. We’ve got enough challenges on our plate now. We’re trying to beat a very good team. That requires all of our attention. We win this series, later on we can sit back and have a beer when we’re older and sit back and tell you why we’re better and who we’re better than … just like the old guys do now.”