19.4 seconds left, Game 6, NBA Finals.
“Should the Spurs foul? Should Miami go for the 3 right away?”
“Just attack the basket,” says former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy.
“James catches, puts up the 3…”
The ball is released from LeBron’s hands. James just had a legendary performance up until this point, and this shot could very well determine the rest of his career. LeBron’s right arm is reached out with perfect follow through. He doesn’t feel that this shot is good, but it has a chance. Upon landing, he hops on his feet again, hoping that any tiny, superstitious action can help will this ball in.
“Won’t go…” beams the voice of play-by-play announcer Mike Breen.
Chris Bosh’s long outstretched arms reach for the rebound, but Manu Ginobili is right there with him. The rebound’s trajectory just misses Bosh’s hands, as Manu rips down the rebound into his chest, protecting the ball with both arms.
“Rebound Ginobili, and Bosh fouls him with just over 8 seconds to go!”
There is a ghastly silence in the American Airlines arena. More Miami Heat ‘fans’ start heading towards the exit, as every camera and every pair of eyes are fixated on LeBron James. Boos are heard around the arena, and some fans are too disappointed to give any sort of reaction.
Arena workers continue to wheel out the Larry O’Brien trophy, and a disappointed Miami Heat intern helps carry out the boxes containing Spurs championship apparel.
On the bench, Duncan and Popovich are still emotionless, knowing very well that the series was not over.
Ginobili walks towards the opposite free throw line, rolling his shoulders and stretching his arms out on the way. He practices his free throw motion with the air, takes a deep breath, and stands in a position ready to receive the ball.
Popovich breaks his silence, and signals for Duncan and Splitter to check into the game after Manu’s first free throw.
On the other end of the court, LeBron James tries his hardest to keep his composure. Over the last year he has won the world’s heart back, and the next two free throws might send him back to media abyss.
The Heat’s role players all give each other looks, but no one dares to make eye contact with James, Wade, Bosh, Allen, or Coach Spoelstra.
“Ginobili steps up to the line, about to shoot his first free throw,”
The world watches as the Argentinean takes a deep breath, lines his shot up, and shoots a free throw.
“First one is good,” calls Breen.
Fans across the world watch in anticipation. Spurs fans have been waiting for this moment for 6 years. The LeBron critics have already started to type their page long essays on why LeBron will never be greater than Jordan. How can you be the greatest if you’ve lost three times out of four in the Finals?
The substitutes check in, as the cameraman starts capturing the emotion of different people. Juwan Howard tells off all the younger guys who think that the game is over. David Fizdale, the Heat assistant coach that looks like Mr. Potato Head, can be seen adjusting his glasses. We see Ray Allen’s mom crying into a towel. Tracy McGrady has his head bowed down, praying for his first NBA championship. The cameraman then pans towards Aron Baynes, but is quickly told that nobody on earth knows who Aron Baynes is, or cares about his reaction.
Ginobili takes his second free throw.
“The second one is also good. Miami now faces a 5-point deficit with just over 8 seconds to play. Can they pull this one out, or is Tim Duncan going to receive ring number five?”
The Heat’s Big 3 and Ray Allen huddle together on the side of the court.
“Set me a screen and pass me the ball,” says a confident Ray Allen.
On the inbound, James races down the court to find Ray Allen, but a poorly timed Chris Bosh screen does not give Allen the separation needed.
Allen catches, rises up, and shoots. He has perfect form, mechanics, and a release, but that was the last thing on any Miami fan’s mind.
“Please…” LeBron mutters under his breath.
The ball rims out, as Danny Green and Shane Battier bat the ball around, fighting for possession.
David Stern straightens up his tie and puts down his half-finished bottle of scotch. After decades of being commissioner, he is about to do his last trophy presentation. He takes one more swig from the bottle.
“Can someone wake up Bill Russell from his nap?”
Somewhere, the Nike marketing team is calling off all LeBron championship products and advertisement. LeBron’s loss will cost Nike approximately $10 million in potential revenue, and also cost a young, aspiring filmmaker the opportunity of a lifetime. This unnamed filmmaker had created an ad based on an answering machine, and it was supposed to air if Miami won the championship.
Tony Parker recovers the loose ball and accelerates down the court. A wave of smiles and happiness start to infect the Spurs bench and staff, with the exception of Popovich.
Sports analysts around the world get ready to give their opinion on what they had just witnessed. Maybe 2012 was just a fluke, and it was classic LeBron James to dominate everything except for that last moment that really mattered.
All the Miami Heat players start pulling their jerseys out their shorts. All eyes are on LeBron, who can do nothing but sulk into his mouthguard. James leads the Heat players to center court to shake hands with the Spurs… then get out of the building as soon as possible.
The buzzer goes off.
The Spurs team clears the bench and run towards Tim Duncan. The gentle giant politely responds to every cheer, hug, and high five, but the whole time he has locked eyes with the man he has called coach for the last 16 years.
Popovich’s stern face broke into a smile, and he gave Duncan a nod. It did not matter that this cemented Popovich’s legacy as one of the greatest coaches in the modern era, nor did it matter to Duncan that his fifth ring gave him a stronger case as one of the greatest players of all time. Neither of Duncan or Popovich cared about the money, the fame, or the recognition. Throughout both their careers, they have been known to only care about one thing.
“That’s five for Duncan and Popovich, the Spurs have won the 2013 NBA Championship!”