NBA Finals legacy battle: Spurs try to solidify theirs, Heat try to build one

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When the NBA Finals tip off Thursday night legacies will be on the line.

The Miami Heat have made no bones about it since the day LeBron James and Chris Bosh said they were joining Dwyane Wade in South Beach — they want to be one of the best teams ever. But they need to hang banners to do that. Not one, not two….

The San Antonio Spurs already have a legacy of winning — four titles between 1999 and 2007. One of the best teams of its generation, led by all-time great power forward Tim Duncan and the fantastic Gregg Popovich. Yet while we give lip service to that idea, the Spurs are overshadowed because they are steady and fundamental — they don’t bring the highlights of Kobe Bryant, the drama of Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. They don’t sell themselves like Lob City. It’s not a show. They get overshadowed. Yet they just win, and you couldn’t ignore a fifth championship in 14 years.

This year’s NBA Finals isn’t just about trying to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy and having a parade. It’s about how each of these teams — and their best players — will be thought of a decade from now and beyond. Winning changes it for both.

Only one franchise has been able to repeat as champions since Michael Jordan retired — Kobe’s Lakers (once with Shaq, once without). If the Heat win a back-to-back titles by knocking off the Spurs then we can start to discuss just how good they were — three straight trips to the finals, two straight rings. (And if they can win a third, then they really reach a new level.)

LeBron will undoubtedly have two finals MVPs if the Heat win, and with that he keeps climbing the tiers up to the all-time greats.

We really should think of the Spurs as already being on those upper tiers. Tim Duncan is regularly mentioned s the greatest power forward ever to play the game. They have four rings

Yet that’s not the common perception of the Spurs — we never mention them with the legends of the game. They are so solid, so reliable, so sound that we take them for granted. We overlook them because they rely on smart passes and not alley-oops made for highlights. Television ratings suggest nobody goes out of their way to watch them, when really basketball fans should savor them. They play a smart, elegant game we will miss someday.

Instead they get ignored. But you couldn’t ignore Duncan’s fifth ring. He has to get talked about with Kobe in the “greatest of his generation” conversation.

That is what this comes down to — the chance to solidify a legacy on one side, the chance to really start building one on the other.

One of these two teams is going to take another big step into the history books in these Finals. However it ends.