Fifteen things to love about the NBA Finals:
1. It’s a rematch. That makes it the first in the NBA since 1997 and 1998 when Chicago closed out the Michael Jordan Era with back-to-back victories against the Utah Jazz, completing their second run of three straight championships. There hasn’t been one in the Super Bowl since 1993 and 1994 (Cowboys vs. Bills) or in the World Series since 1977 and 1978 (Yankees vs. Dodgers). So enjoy the moment, because it may be awhile before we see another.
2. The Heat is going for a three-peat. That would the first since the Lakers won three straight in 2000, 2001 and 2002. The Lakers also won three straight when they were in Minneapolis from 1952-54. The Bulls did it twice: 1991-93 and 1996-98. Bill Russell’s Celtics were the only other team to win more than two in a row: The Celtics won eight straight championships from 1959 to 1966.
3. The Spurs are seeking revenge. This team usually follows the lead of its laconic leader, Tim Duncan. But they’ve made no bones about how much letting Game 6 slip away last year has burned ever since. There’s a lot more respect than dislike between the teams, but there’s no lack of motivation from either side.
4. The greatness of LeBron. He may have ceded MVP honors to Kevin Durant this season, but LeBron James is still the best player on the planet. Once derided because of “The Decision” and his supposed inability to win the big one, James can now have a trio of rings at age 29. A superstar who lacks the aloofness of Jordan, James is earning his spot on basketball’s Mount Rushmore.
5. The greatness of The Big Fundamental. Just call him Old Man River Walk. Duncan keeps rolling along, never spectacular but always there when he’s needed, such as the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Thunder. A 14-time All-Star, Duncan is in the discussion for best power forward of all-time.
6. Pop. Spurs coach Greg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford scour the world for talent, and then Pop extends the careers of his veterans — this year’s team is the first in NBA history without a player averaging 30 minutes — while still managing to post the league’s best record. As Kobe Bryant recently said, “I’m jealous of Tim, playing for the same historically great coach his entire career.”
7. Tony Parker. He’s wooed, wed and divorced Eva Longoria, and yet his social life hasn’t suffered since. Idolized in his native France (Just ask his countryman, Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca). Parker’s being able to deal with a bad ankle is he key to the series for the Spurs.
8. D-Wade. By design to save his aching knees, Dwyane Wade missed 28 games this season. The result: Wade has looked rejuvenated in the playoffs. And while his absence may have cost the Heat home court against Indiana, it ultimately didn’t matter. This could be the difference maker for Miami.
9. Fun Facts. The Spurs have never lost Game 1 in five previous Finals. LeBron is 0-7 when opening a playoff series on the road, including his time in Cleveland, losing by an average of 12.3 points. But in the three series with road starts since James has been in Miami, including the just-concluded conference final against Indiana and last year against the Spurs, the Heat has won the series.
10. No Clippers. They gained your admiration for playing through the early chaos of the Donald Sterling situation. But can you imagine the media circus if they were still going for the title a month later and the Sterlings were still out there doing their legal saber-rattling? Instead the team’s sale has been agreed to, and the Sterlings are hopefully fading from the picture. What lingers, though, are questions about how the NBA tolerated the situation for so long.
11. The AARP Games. The Heat has nine players on its roster with at least 10 years of experience in the NBA. Maybe they’re just getting an early start on retiring to Miami. The Spurs aren’t far behind with seven players with double-digit experience. Watching these relative graybeards cavort up and down the counts helps keep us senior citizens from feeling so old.
12. Greg Oden. He looks older than anybody on either roster, and yet he’s only 26. If you had endured as many injury problems as the former No. 1 pick out of Ohio State in 2007 has endured, you’d be prematurely aged, too. And yet, he has a chance to get a ring before Durant, the No. 2 pick in ’07.
13. The format change. For the first time in more than 30 years, the Finals are 2-2-1-1-1 just like the rest of the playoffs. It puts the top-seeded Spurs at home for a potentially pivotal Game 5.
14. It’s not New York vs. Los Angles. The NHL is pinning its hopes on two mega-market teams in its finals to increase interest in a league that is struggling to remain relevant. Big whoop. The Spurs are San Antonio’s only major pro franchise, and the city is at a five-alarm hot sauce level about it. Miami’s too cool to go gaga over the Heat, but the charms of South Beach more than make up for that.
15. Picking the winner. Opinions are divided, but the consensus gives the edge to San Antonio in seven. Just as long as the Spurs don’t let Ray Allen take a potentially game-winning 3-pointer.