MIAMI: His legacy now intact, LeBron James’s second championship ring validates his decision to join the Miami Heat and sets the stage for a possible three-peat performance next season.
“I came here to win championships,” James said. “To be able to go back-to-back and win two championships in three years so far is the ultimate.
“I know the grass isn’t always greener and there are going to be trials and tribulations. But hopefully I can continue to be a leader for my teammates.
“I want to be, if not the greatest, then one of the greatest to play this game.”
James took another huge step in that direction Thursday by scoring a 2013 post-season high 37 points as the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in the decisive game seven of the NBA finals to take the league championship.
Miami becomes the first Eastern Conference team to win back-to-back NBA titles since the Chicago Bulls won three straight, beginning in 1996.
No fans left the American Airlines arena in Miami early on Thursday night like they did during game six, when the Heat staged a late rally to stay alive the series.
This was the Heat’s third championship in franchise history and it came on their home floor in front of a standing room only crowd of 19,900.
The Heat are now the toast of the Florida sports scene.
The baseball Florida Marlins are in disarray, the hockey Panthers play before half-empty arenas and the gridiron Miami Dolphins have had a losing record for the past four seasons.
The Heat now have three championships (2013, 2012, 2006), the Marlins two (2003, 1997), the Dolphins two (1973, 1972) and the Panthers none.
“Legacies are tied to the moment, to this game,” said Heat guard Ray Allen.
Allen has played 17 seasons in the NBA, but no one’s legacy was on the line more during this post-season than James.
“He always rises to the occasion when it matters the most, when the competition is the fiercest,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
In 2010, James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Heat in a highly publicized free agency move that united Miami’s marquee trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In his first year in Miami, the Heat reached the 2011 NBA finals but lost to Dallas.
James got off to a slow start in the finals until he figured out how to beat the Spurs with his jump shot instead of trying to drive to the basket for lay-ups and dunks.
“Their game plan was to keep him out of the paint at all costs,” Spoelstra said. “And that meant giving him wide-open looks. It messed with us a little bit. It took him out of his normal rhythm. But eventually he was able to figure it out.”
James will marry his high school sweetheart and the mother of his two young sons in San Diego in September.
So the next few months will be spent making wedding plans and letting his body recover after the pounding he took during the NBA season.