7:00 PM EDT, June 22, 2013
Two down, six to go!
Miami's Big Three aren't even a third of the way to fulfilling the championship pledge LeBron James made on that sorry summer day in 2010 when he sat on a stage inside AmericanAirlines Arena and said, "Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven."
If you watch the YouTube replay of that regrettable moment, Heat President Pat Riley can be seen clasping his hands in front of his seemingly disbelieving face, his eyes slowly blinking.
Here's the thing: James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh haven't blinked while making three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, including back-to-back championships.
They've met every reasonable expectation foisted upon the most polarizing trio in sports. And they may just be getting started.
"They don't appear to be near the end of their run," said ESPN analyst and former Brooklyn Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. "They've just won back to back and they will clearly be the favorites going into next year."
Another championship would put Miami's trio in some exclusive company as far as Big Threes go, and that's not counting the title Wade won with the Heat in 2006. Boston's Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish won three championships together in the 1980s. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the last three of their five titles as Lakers after James Worthy joined Showtime.
San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili also have won three titles as a group, a feat that should be the envy of every faux Big Three that has followed them.
"Everybody can't get to the Finals and win six in a row — like win six and not lose one like Michael Jordan," a slightly tipsy Wade said after the Heat beat the Spurs in Game 7 on Thursday. "Everyone don't do that. But we are excited about the future of this organization. We are still a good team. And we're going to do everything we can to make sure that we can stay competitive."
Staying together beyond next season may be the biggest challenge.
All three players could opt out of their contracts in the summer of 2014. Of course, given the way things have gone the last three seasons, that would be like voluntarily switching from first class to economy.
But the decision ultimately may not be theirs to make. A trade may not be as laughable as it seems given the Heat's salary constraints, luxury tax realities — the team could pay more than $25 million in penalties next season — and the fact that the rest of the NBA is starting to make things even stickier in South Beach.
Indiana and San Antonio both extended Miami to seven-game series, and Chicago presumably gets back star point guard Derrick Rose next season. There's also that Oklahoma City tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to worry about.
Among Miami's trio, only James should be considered untouchable. Wade probably shares that status, despite the balky left knee that led to several spotty showings in the Finals, because he's been a part of the franchise for all three of its titles and has become Mr. Perseverance.
"They tried to bury Dwyane," Miami forward Shane Battier said, "but he kept pushing open that coffin door."
That leaves Bosh, whose pointless presence in Game 7 was encapsulated by a silly three-pointer with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The shot missed. Badly.
The Heat could trade Bosh for a sturdier center who can stand up to the likes of Roy Hibbert and Duncan. The problem is that any move would likely have to meet with James' approval, which could be hard to secure before the current run of championships ends.
At the very least, the Heat needs to tweak the fringes of its roster to find another low-priced, all-hustle big man a la Chris Andersen and one more shooter in case the team decides to use the amnesty provision to waive Mike Miller.
That's not to say the current product is defective. Miami did win 27 consecutive games at one point and finished with an NBA-best 66 victories during the regular season.
"They've done an unbelievable job," TNT analyst Greg Anthony said. "The fact that they've played in three consecutive Finals and won two, it's ludicrous to say they haven't been successful."
The Heat has already been established as a 3-to-1 favorite to win the title next season by Pregame.com, an online betting website.
You certainly can't count them out. Like James, you may just have to keep counting.
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