Outcome of Game 7 pivot point for NBA


It has been said that while progress is a nice word, change is its motivator, and that change has its enemies.

I’m pretty sure David Stern has been called worse.

It’s more than just 48 minutes, or perhaps a bit longer should overtime again find these NBA Finals tonight, a Game 7 between the Heat and Spurs whose ending will signal a transformation in leadership off the court and potentially could create a historic shift in power on it.

One game. Potentially massive implications.

Stern will oversee his final Larry O’Brien Trophy presentation, retiring in February after 30 seasons of wearing the commissioner’s name tag. Four lockouts. A rogue referee and major betting scandal. Foolish, short-sided trade vetoes. Making fat-cat owners billionaires. Six franchise relocations.

It has been a wilder ride for Stern than anything Mr. Toad offers.

But while owners might look forward to dealing more with the unflustered and appeasing Adam Silver as Stern’s replacement, few can be overly comfortable with the thought of Miami losing tonight.

Unless you run the Lakers or Cavaliers.

Then, you might be sending all good thoughts to those in South Beach.

It’s much easier to stay put when one’s fingers begin to be crowded with rings, and a second Heat championship would mean more bling for LeBron James. Winning solves most problems and can make what are legitimate concerns for future success seem less urgent.

A win by Miami tonight likely would increase the chances of James not opting out of the final two years of his contract following next season. A loss would be the Heat’s second in three consecutive trips to the Finals and could mean James taking a longer look at things like the declining performances by Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and an ever-changing bench and cast of role players.

The Heat shouldn’t be judged a failure for reaching three straight Finals and coming away with just one trophy if that’s how things play out, but would be if they returned to this place next season and the one after that and always watched others celebrate.

That’s the burden you carry when having predicted pure domination upon assembling this current cast of stars.

James chased a ring in signing with Miami and could do the same elsewhere — perhaps in Los Angeles or by returning home to Cleveland — if the Heat can’t prove good enough to win multiple titles with him.

One ring likely would cause him to bolt for another.

Two — or more, depending on what happens next season — might convince him to finish what he started.

Tonight is about further shaping James’ legacy, about which road it will take next, about if he again soon will ponder a decision that would affect the entire league. If so, let’s hope the next announcement isn’t some publicity disaster hosted by Jim Gray.

“I want to go down as one of the greatest,” James told reporters Wednesday. “I want our team to go down as one of the greatest. There haven’t been many to win back-to-back championships. It’s the hardest thing. I’m going to give it my all. Whatever happens happens. I’ll be satisfied with that.”

Things are less complex for the Spurs.

There is a great chance, given what we have seen from the fading Manu Ginobili for most of this series, that tonight will mark the end of arguably the greatest trio playing together in league history.

At least in terms of making runs at a championship.

Ginobili might return for another season alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, but it took six years between the Spurs winning a fourth title and again reaching the Finals. San Antonio has grown old in key spots while Oklahoma City and the Clippers and the Grizzlies are younger with better and brighter futures out of the Western Conference.

The past five NBA Finals to reach a Game 7 have gone to the home team, and given how the Spurs lost Game 6 — in which one rebound or made free throw in the waning seconds of regulation would have secured San Antonio ring No. 5 — you would think all the momentum and fortune rests with the defending champs.

“Our core guys have been through a lot together,” Duncan said. “Tony, Manu and I have been in this position before. At the beginning of the season, if somebody asked if we wanted to play in Game 7 for the NBA championship, we would have said yes. So we’re here. We have this opportunity, and we’re going to take it.”

One game. Forty-eight minutes (or more).

So many potential long-lasting implications and storylines.

And none will have to do with whether or not James wears a headband.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.