Would Another Title Make Miami Heat Greatest Team Ever?

(Photo: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If you can’t stand the Miami Heat, stay away from the NBA Finals.

Here they are again: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company in the NBA championship round back-to-back-to-back-to-back, a feat not seen since Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics of the mid-1980s.

And if you can’t stand the Heat, you’re hardly alone. Haters emerged when James took his talents to South Beach and said they’d win championships — not two, not three, not four, not five. Don’t look now, but if the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in the best-of-seven Finals beginning Thursday, they’ll have won three consecutive NBA titles, a feat not seen since the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000s.

“We don’t take this for granted,” Wade says, “and hopefully our fans in Miami, our supporters don’t take this for granted, neither. This is not something that happens every day.”

Dynasties, by their nature, are not everyday things. The NBA has given us only a few: George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers (five titles in six seasons in the 1940s and ’50s), Bill Russell’s Celtics (11 titles in 13 seasons in the 1950s and ’60s), the Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Los Angeles Lakers (five titles and eight Finals in the 1980s) and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls (six titles in eight seasons in the 1990s).

The Heat are coming to San Antonio with a chance to join mini-dynasties on the next rung of NBA history, among them Bird’s Celtics (three titles and five Finals in seven seasons of the 1980s), the Lakers of Bryant and O’Neal and these Tim Duncan-led Spurs, who are attempting to win a fifth NBA title since 1999.

That makes this series one of dueling dynasties: the Spurs, who have never won consecutive titles, against the Heat going for a three-peat, a term their president, Pat Riley, trademarked back when he was coaching the Lakers.

“We’ve worked as a unit,” Wade says. “We sacrificed as individuals to be in this moment, in this position, so we understand where we’re at right now. But it’s still crazy, too.”

Here’s how crazy: Just two other franchises have reached four NBA Finals in a row. Bird’s Celtics and Johnson’s Lakers did it in the 1980s, and their skeins intersected. Russell’s Celtics played in 10 consecutive Finals from 1957 to 1966. When that streak ended, Riley was a junior at Kentucky. When the streak ended for Bird’s Celtics, James was 3.

“Just to piggyback off what D-Wade said, we don’t take this moment for granted,” James says. “We’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of this four straight times.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talked with his team about the history within their grasp at the start of training camp — and then left the enormity of the task unsaid for the balance of the season.

“We talked about it from the first day,” Spoelstra says. “We talked about the legacy of this team. The players that weren’t here that first year, they inherited all of those experiences. But it was only that first day. We’ve never brought it up since then.

“What I was really encouraged about was our attendance and commitment in training camp in the Bahamas. Right from there, and we communicated during the summer that, if we’re real about this, about how difficult that journey is, that you cannot shortcut, that we would show it immediately in training camp. … It got us off to a great start.”

And now here they are looking for a great finish.

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Erik Brady and Jeff Zillgitt

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