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Patrick Hruby

The Game's the Thing

The Atlantic Sports Roundtable on the thrilling 2013 NBA Finals

The Atlantic online

In this week's Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we look back at the best NBA Finals in recent memory:

Hampton Stevens: ... other than Jesus Shuttlesworth hitting a three-pointer, the most memorable moment of this year's Finals was the last one. After the buzzer when both teams and all the coaches met and congratulated each other--including midcourt hugs--it didn't look like a phony display of sportsmanship for the camera. That felt like the real thing. We saw genuine expressions of the respect, affection, and shared gratitude that can only come between athletes who have given each other the great and rare gift of a truly worthy opponent.

I'll bitch about the NBA from now until the Kings come home. The extra steps, the endless season, the infuriating inconsistency of officials. Don't get me started on flopping. But these last two weeks are enough to make you forgive it all. Basketball is over for a while--unless you care about the guys in suits who play with ping-pong balls. But before we let the 2013 season go, give me your thoughts on this dynamite finals ...

Patrick Hruby: ... Here's what I'll remember most about these Finals: The games themselves were the thing. The signal drowned out the noise. The basketball--you know, the athletic exhibition taking place between the Tweeting and scribbling and kvetching about James's psyche and his place in history and who would win an arm-wrestling contest on the moon, James or Michael Jordan or Mini-Ditka?--was terrific. It was glorious. The series was exciting, unpredictable, intense, expertly played, a delight for hardcore and casual fans alike. Even the blowout games were intriguing.

Like you, Hampton, I didn't have a rooting interest. And like you, I found so much to relish and appreciate regardless: Dwyane Wade's sore knee-defying eruption; Manu Ginobili's swashbuckling throwback game; Danny Green's metamorphosis into Ray Allen 2.0; Allen 1.0's clutch shot-making; Chris Bosh's defense and hustle plays; Tony Parker's one-legged cleverness and perseverance; James's vastly improved jumper and overall two-way excellence; the tactical back-and-forth between Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra; the quiet ferocity of Kahwi Leonard; Tim Duncan's inexplicable Game Seven steal-and-breakaway-slam.

None of this needed larding. It didn't need umpteen hours of pre-and-post game analysis, of breathlessly desperate tonight ... destiny is on the line! salesmanship, of all the big and little things we do to reassure ourselves that sports are, you know, important and stuff. All the things that can sometimes make watching the actual competition seem like a letdown. An afterthought. Maybe just a chore. The things that seem to cling to James in particular like barnacles. Legacy and "The Decision" and blah blah blah. I say the hell with all that. Life is what happens when you're busy figuring out whose head to carve into the side of some imaginary basketball Great Pyramid of Giza. The 2013 Finals gave us seven joyful games, full of moments that were enjoyable in and of themselves - and for me, at least, that was more than enough ...

Jake Simpson: ... seriously, guys? All those eloquent words on the beauty of a truly legendary Finals and a couple pithy sentence about LeBron James? Sorry, I can't let the King's coronation pass without acknowledgement.

See, Michael Jordan took the NBA's Iron Throne not during his first Finals victory, but in the first half of Game One of his title defense the following year, when he torched Clyde Drexler for 35 points, six three-pointers and one unforgettable shrug. This was LeBron's first chance to defend a championship, which everyone from Bill Russell to Magic Johnson says is far more difficult than winning just one. And after three quarters of Game Six, his Heat were 10 points down and in danger of becoming basketball's version of Peyton Manning's Colts.

Then LeBron simply elevated his game, literally and figuratively. He became an assassin on defense, with unimaginably athletic and aggressive ball pressure. He sprung--that is the only word for it--up to block a Duncan dunk attempt at the rim. He scored 18 of Miami's 38 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a desperation three-pointer to keep the Heat alive and the game-winning jumper in OT. And after Tim Duncan quietly pulled off an illegal substitution with five seconds left in regulation and the score knotted at 95, LeBron blanketed Parker and forced him into a desperation heave that fell well short.

That effort merely set the stage for LeBron's Game Seven, a 37-12 masterpiece that was probably worth closer to 60 points. As LeBron said after the game, "When my shot's falling, I'm unstoppable." His shot was falling. And he was unstoppable. He made the game his own ...

Read the full article at The Atlantic online