SAN ANTONIO — On one side of the court, in the waning seconds of a five-game TKO, the new champions kept hugging, their mouths agape at how much of a beatdown they administered on LeBron James’s outclassed team.
On the other, the deposed king shook his head in disbelief. LeBron was not just marveling at how efficient and lethal the San Antonio Spurs were. He had to be wondering, deep down, how he ended up with such a sorry, barely formidable lot to compete in the NBA Finals after back-to-back titles put the Heat on the cusp of a dynasty.
It’s right and just that the Spurs will be feted with a parade Tuesday and that this town can continue celebrating its test-of-time team and the Spurs’ vindication a year after being so close.
But now LeBron is the story because the axis of power in the NBA depends on what he is thinking.
He gave us a glimpse in the postgame news conference and myriad quotes the past few days, none of which announced his certain return to Miami in a summer in which he can opt out of his current contract — and all of which had to concern Heat owner Micky Arison, President Pat Riley and Coach Erik Spoelstra.
Sometimes when the elite of the elite speak, you need translators to parse the pauses, inflection and the things unsaid, the between-the-lines messages telepathically transported to ownership, management and fans.
“LeBron, what are your thoughts about what you’ve learned over the years from management, coaches, just how the organization has treated you?” he was asked Sunday night after Miami was emasculated, 104-87.
“I mean, I play for my teammates every single night,” he said. “I don’t really get involved in management and all of that. . . . I try to inspire my teammates. I let guys do their jobs, and I do mine.”
I’m not a LeBronologist, but having first met LeBron his senior year of high school, I know a little about him. And I can provide some insight into the general thought process that goes on in the minds of the greatest players to play the game.
When they are rich and famous and already beyond successful, they care about being the winner, not merely winning. They win championships or they are the loser each season. However detestable that sounds to the values of sport and life, that’s how they think.
Which is why LeBron isn’t going anywhere.
I could be dead wrong about this, but I will take my chances.
LeBron sent messages Sunday night, all right.
“The Spurs continue to get better,” he said. “Obviously, they kept those three guys intact, but they continue to put guys around them, high-IQ basketball guys around them, high-energy guys around them that fit into the system of what Pop wanted to do.”
’Bronspeak: We didn’t get better. We amnestied my guy Mike Miller, who hit so many big three-pointers for us in the clutch regardless of whether he could move his feet laterally on defense, and we went out and acquired broken wings like Mike Beasley and Greg Oden, who didn’t help us boo when it mattered.
Our role players can’t rebound, shoot and pass like Tim, Manu and Tony’s role players. Birdman can rebound. Rio can shoot a little, and sometimes he can’t even do that. They have basketball players; we have specialists who can do one or two things but can’t be the cog in a machine needed to play the way I want to play. When is Riles going to get me those guys, someone who can pick up slack for 30-something D. Wade so I don’t have to play so many minutes in the regular season? And how long do I wait?
And this quote:
“I mean, I will deal with my summer when I get to that point,” he said after he was asked about his future again. “Me and my team will sit down and get to that point. I love Miami. My family loves it. But obviously, right now that’s not what I’m thinking about.
“You guys are trying to find answers. I’m not going to give you one. I’m just not going to give it to you. When I get to that point, I’ll deal with it.”
’Bronspeak: I was told to be mysterious because when I say my team, I mean Maverick Carter and Rich Paul, the cats sitting in on all my press conferences who I’ve known since I was a kid and who basically jumped on my gravy train and remain two dudes I still trust to help me make the right decisions (even if Mav messed up “The Decision” something awful.)
Anyway, I’m not going anywhere. At this point in my career, I’ve got everything I need in Miami as far as resources and clout to help me get what I want — as many or more championships than Michael. The only thing missing is real players who fit my game. So I’ll probably opt in to my deal for a year, take less money and make it clear that we need new blood. Now.
By the way, Spo’ made some real shaky moves with our rotation. At the moment, I’m on the outs with him. He needs to be better like all of us. He’s on notice.
I have no idea whether this is LeBron’s actual thought process. But I do believe he will give the Heat one season to make things right and ensure he has the tools to win consecutive titles soon.
He is not tone-deaf anymore about his image. He knows leaving Miami after a bad ending in San Antonio would look too much like leaving Cleveland, like a cook who leaves the kitchen when it gets too hot.
If his legacy is truly more important than money, he can start over again. But it has to be in Miami with a new roster because anywhere else will eventually lead to the same frustrations. It would end up with LeBron realizing the common denominator was a player who didn’t have the patience to wait for his team to be great again.
If he should learn anything from Tim Duncan and the Spurs, it is that the best things come to future Hall of Famers who wait the non-champion years out to hoist the trophy again.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.