The Miami Heat won a second consecutive championship Thursday night, beating the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Miami’s LeBron James was named Finals MVP after a dominant performance:

“It feels great,” James said. “This team is amazing. The vision that I had when I decided to come here is all coming true. To win back-to-back championships is an unbelievable feeling.”

James scored 37 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and willed his team to a win in a hotly contested battle that mirrored an intense series. . .

Though he went on to win Finals MVP and an Olympic gold medal last year, James was not absolved from the constant nit-picking and criticism of his every shortcoming or mis-step. James took the endless referendums on his legacy in stride and continued to push through an opponent that forced him to find another way to emerge victorious.

Points were at a premium after both teams spent the past two weeks learning every scheme tendency and weakness. The two teams fought through early nerves, missing shots and having sloppy possessions. Miami kept trying to deliver a knockout blow, but the Spurs refused to go away.

The Spurs repeatedly dared James to shoot, rather than let him attack the basket in his usual freight train style. With plenty of space to pull up, James answered the dare by making five three-pointers, even staring down the Spurs’ bench after dropping one of his three-pointers from the right corner in front of it.

Michael Lee

Columnist Jason Reid remembers what James and his teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh sacrificed to join forces in Miami and work together for the championship:

That singular pursuit is what prompted the incomparable James — who led Miami with 37 points and 12 rebounds en route to his second NBA Finals MVP award — to walk away from the team that drafted him, incurring the wrath of fans in his home state. It’s why Wade, one of the game’s superstars, willingly stepped aside to let basketball’s best player lead the Heat. Bosh sacrificed the most. He went from being a franchise player to a third banana (albeit a good one).

The payoff was worth it. In winning consecutive NBA championships, Miami joined an exclusive club that includes Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers. The list of teams that have made at least three straight Finals appearances also is short: Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York and the Lakers.

Since James, Wade and Bosh teamed up, Miami has achieved the type of success only attained by teams among the best of their eras. The hard work and mental toughness of the Big Three resulted in Miami earning a spot at the table.

Jason Reid

The Miami Heat won its second straight NBA championship, defeating the San Antonio Spurs in a tense Game 7, 95-88. (Associated Press)

Columnist Sally Jenkins writes that James joins the company of other great athletes who have learned how to improve themselves through their losses:

Say this for LeBron James: Just when he seems about to sink under the leadweight of embarrassment and expectations, he rises above them with chiseled potency. The same goes for swimmer Diana Nyad, disappointed four times in her impracticable, jellyfish-tortured attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, yet about to try again. And whether you apply the term “winner” or “loser” to Phil Mickelson, give the six-time runner-up of the U.S. Open this much: He does things with his whole heart. . .

Simply put, champions are good losers, in the sense that they learn from reversals and respond to them — and that’s a lesson we can import from them. Winning and losing are learned behaviors. . .

It’s not often an athlete is as embarrassed as James was by the Spurs in Game 3 of the NBA Finals last week, when he shot just 7 for 21 — or as honest. “I played like $&#*” he said. But then he added, “As dark as it was last night, it can’t get darker than that. I guarantee I’ll be better tomorrow, for sure.” And he was, throwing down a triple-double in Game 6, including 32 points, and followed that up with 37 in Game 7, including the critical basket in the final minute.

Athletes are always teaching themselves something, even when they suffer repetitive losses. That’s important, because it means is that we underappreciate losing, spend far too much time examining victories and not crediting loses. Nyad knows on a gut level that good losers have an interesting and valuable self-control: They manage to maintain their effort, standard and comportment even in the face of cuts to their souls.

Sally Jenkins

For past coverage of this year’s NBA Finals, continue reading here.