But here, where the Heat is always on, it’s something larger, more ominous, the latest referendum on an era. If the Spurs somehow go up 2-0 on Miami and siphon the sound out of the Heat’s home crowd again, doom, derision and all the old demons await in South Texas.
LeBron can’t lose another title to a diminutive French point guard, Tony Parker, who went high off the glass for the clincher in Game 1
— LeBanque? — to stun Miami on Thursday night.
That never happened to Michael or Kobe.
If LeBron falls to 1-3 on the game’s grandest stage, “not one, not two, not three . . . ” doesn’t become his premature and often-mocked boast of the multiple championships he planned to win with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; it’s a depressing compilation of Finals losses by the most gifted and breathtaking player since Jordan or Bryant.
Sure, that gaudy gold-ball trophy is at stake. But also on the line are a player’s legacy and a franchise patriarch’s all-in wager — dynasty or dust.
“I don’t know if we’re supposed to win by the standards of people around the world,” Ray Allen said Friday afternoon, “but I know LeBron has great pressure on him. He’s been criticized since he’s been 15 or 14 or 13 or whatever. They just want to compare him to other people. So the more he wins or doesn’t win, those comparisons either make sense or they don’t.
“The pressure for us is . . . we want to win and we have to win [for each other.] But not because of what other people say or think.”
No, because, as Erik Spoelstra, Riley’s sideline successor, said earlier this week, “This is the world we live in.” This is the world Riley created, why so many of the game’s greats deigned to play for him: because they wanted winning to mean as much to them.
Once a player signs on for the Riley Doctrine, basketball becomes deeper, more involved, beyond committed. Established early in his days with Magic and Kareem and crystallized in 1992 while he coached the Knicks — “I believe there is winning and there is misery, and even when I win I’m miserable,” he said then — you don’t get to the NBA finals. You’re “the winner” or one of 29 losers. You don’t capture silver in Riley’s world; you lose gold.
Outside the Heat locker room there is no motivational “Play Like a Champion Today” placard, like Notre Dame. No, that’s too soft for Riles, who instead had this inscription carved in the wall: “For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”
Better swing that ball to the open man on the weak side, no, ’Bron?