In what has become a seemingly yearly spring tradition, the Miami Heat have made their way back to the NBA Finals, this time for a 4th consecutive season; sharing this honor with the Russell Celtics, Magic Lakers, and Bird Celtics....and that's it. End of the list. No other teams have done it, not the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, and no, not even Jordan's Bulls. So the Heat find themselves in rare company as they take on Tim Duncan and the Spurs for the second consecutive year. While no one can ever take away the achievement of making 4 consecutive trips to the Finals, this series will ultimately decide how history views the Big 3 era, especially if this happens to be their last season together.
If they lose, they'll drop to 2-2 in the Finals, not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but not great either. We wouldn't look at Jordan or his Bulls the same way had they went 4-2 or 3-3 in their trips to the Finals. A .500 record in the Finals would fuel those who want to doubt these Heat. They can bring up the relatively weak competition they've faced in the East, and how the Heat couldn't truly stack up against the best teams in the league. A victory however, and that narrative gets flipped. A third consecutive championship and this Heat team becomes a dynasty, they become immortal, and they'll always be mentioned as one of the greatest teams in not just the history of the NBA, but in all of sports as well.
However, it's not just the teams legacy on the line, each of the Big 3 have a lot at stake in the outcome of this series that goes beyond just the rings. We'll start with Dwyane Wade, who in my opinion has the least to gain or lose from these Finals. Once a top 3 player in the league, Wade is now past his prime and on the decline. He's clearly not the force he once was, but he's still a dangerous player capable of taking over a game on any given night. No one can ever take away the majestic performance he had in the '06 Finals, where he almost single-handedly willed the Heat to a title (albeit with a lot of help from the refs, but that's a discussion for another time). Only an extremely good or bad performance, like winning Finals MVP, would really change Wade's legacy. If he has a solid Finals and picks up his 4th ring, that places him firmly as one of the 25 greatest players in league history, and he'll forever be mentioned with Kobe and Pippen as one of the NBA's all time greatest sidekicks.
Chris Bosh has frequently been the Heat's whipping boy since joining up with Wade and James in Miami back in 2010. Some of the criticism's have merit, as Bosh's play has been inconsistent during Miami's postseason runs. He played very well in the 2011 playoffs, putting up 19 & 9 a game, and he's come up big in clutch situations. He had a big performance in that Game 7 against the Celtics, coming off the bench to drop 19 points and hitting several big shots in the second half to help put away the plucky Celtics, and with the Heat at deaths door in Game 6 last year, he grabbed the rebound and made the pass to set up Ray Allen's season saving 3. However, he was rather mediocre during Miami's playoff run last year, which he capped off with a goose egg in Game 7 of the Finals, not something any player would want to have on their resume. When you look at Bosh's numbers, especially since their first title run, you can't help but feel he's been somewhat disappointing. He's averaging just 14 and 7 during this 3-peat attempt, and for someone who isn't a Bill Russell/Dennis Rodman anchor on defense, those are numbers that don't look great for a potential future hall of famer. If Bosh performs like he did during those last 3 games against the Pacers, he'd certainly shut up a lot of the critics and prove he deserves to be mentioned with the likes of James and Wade. However, if he plays like he has in the playoffs during his tenure with the Heat, or even worse, like his first 3 Indiana games, especially in a series loss,we'd have to reevaluate Bosh's significance to this Heat era, and a lot of people would start to question if this ever really was a Big 3, and instead a Big 2.5 like othershave claimed before Suffice to say, this is a big series for Bosh, a good performance in these Finals would be huge for his legacy, and really push him up the all time ladder.
And now, for the member of the Big 3 that tends to go under the radar, the one who doesn't normally make the headlines or get much national media attention, LeBron James. There's nothing left to say about him that hasn't already been said. He's already held almost every label imaginable in his career (phenom, failure, savior, traitor, choker, clutch, sidekick, the next Jordan), and was one missed Ray Allen 3 away from having a lot of those negative traits reattached to him. Simply put, even with everything he's already accomplished, this is an opportunity for LeBron to have a perfect resume. Sure, he'll always be dogged by his abysmal performance in the 2011 NBA Finals, but with a 3rd straight NBA championship, and most importantly for him, NBA Finals MVP, LeBron would undoubtedly become a top 10 NBA player of all time. At age 29. If he walks away with his 3rd straight Finals MVP, LeBron could never step foot on a basketball court again and be firmly entrenched as a top 10 player. He'd have a resume all but a handful of players could replicate or surpass. But, things get tricky if the Heat go down and fail to complete the 3-peat. LeBron would drop to 2-3 in the Finals, which would be, as Bill Simmons put it so eloquently, a "Chamberlain-like" Finals record. He'd drop his second Finals to Duncan, and be one Ray Allen 3 away from going 0-3 against the Spurs, which I'm sure all the critics would be quick to bring up, and all those old claims of being unclutch and a choker would rise from the ashes. He's had so many of these in his career it feels ridiculous to bring up, but once again, this is a series that will really define LeBron's legacy, and I'm not so sure he'll ever be able to fully recover from a missed opportunity like this Big 3 3-peat would provide for him.
I'm sure most of America is sick of the Heat, and honestly probably the Spurs at this rate, but all in all, this is a very riveting series that has storylines galore. Just think, I haven't even mentioned what a 5th title would do for Duncan or Popovich, or what a Finals MVP would mean for someone like Parker or Ginobili. There's a lot up for grabs in this series, and even though the Spurs are older, finished with the better record and have home court advantage, the Heat will feel the brunt of the pressure in this series. They need this title to really cap off what has been an incredible run of dominance, and how this series turns out is how the legacy of the Big 3 will be remembered.