In an NBA Finals series with so many stories to tell, the main headline continues to be the near-certain dominance of LeBron James, who is at the peak of his powers and gunning for his second straight title during this best-of-7 against the San Antonio Spurs.
Predictably, he was the star as the Heat took their first Finals practice while the huge herd of media roamed around the main court at AmericanAirlines Arena to get a good look at him. While plenty wanted to also see how Dwyane Wade was trotting around the court as well or take a picture or two of Birdman without his trademark mohawk plastered with hair gel. As practice was wrapping up, coach Erik Spoelstra was the first to take questions in the newly set up interview room assembled within the arena. When asked about whether LeBron will enter this Finals with less pressure than a year ago, Spoelstra preferred to talk about the team as a whole bouncing back from adversity.
"We've been through a great deal. C'mon, when you go through a collective massive failure like we did two years ago, it can rip your team apart or it can build some resolve. We had an incredible resolve last year, we tasted victory, and then came back this year trying to improve and to put ourselves in position to try to play for it again. It's not guaranteed, it's never easy, it doesn't matter what the journey is, but we just knew it would be different this year and we were fully tested in the last round.
"The pressure and the expectations with us, they never change and we embrace that. We like the world that we live in, there's no turning back, and all our chips are in."
But just moments later, Spoelstra defined LeBron's all-important role on this team that is four more victories away from repeating as champs.
"We'll see how it plays out. But he'll be on every single one of those players at some point, and then we just have to see how the games are going and what's needed. He's our Super Glue; wherever we need to put him, he'll make it work."
Much of the discussion at the media interviews, where Spoelstra was followed by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and then the San Antonio Spurs trio of coach Gregg Popovich and players Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, centered around the MVP and how we would respond to this latest challenge. Wade was asked the same question as Spoelstra was with regards to the pressure on LeBron this time around.
"After so many years, when you kind of question yourself and doubt, 'Am I ever going to win a championship?' into finally winning one, it takes a little pressure and stress off you. But he's not relaxed to a standpoint of...he still wants to win again. He wants to win another one, so he's hungry still."
But there is still a certain burden that LeBron must shoulder as not just the MVP of the NBA but as the undisputed best player in the planet, perhaps even more so because of the inconsistency the rest of the team seems to be collectively plagued with. But not unlike the other greats of the game like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, he will be asked to carry the load of the team's production and it might necessitate some high scoring games to secure a Heat victory over the talented Spurs. LeBron must be aware of his own legacy that he's building upon with each spectacular game, like his memorable game-winning layup in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers, but he just smiled and shook his head when asked about this topic.
"I don't play this game for my legacy," he claimed. "I play the game because I love it and I have fun playing it, and I love the competitive side of it.
"Once I'm done, you guys will write my legacy and say what I've done for this game but that's not for me to worry about right now. I play the game to win championships. I understand that it's a long process and it's the most difficult thing that I've ever had to do playing basketball. That's what I'm here for, I'm here to win championships. You're not always going to be on the successful side and I've seen it twice. But to be to able to just put myself in the position to play for one, I'm happy with that."
Universally regarded as one of the finest coaches in the league, Popovich must now worry about the 2013 version of LeBron James and not the one in a Cleveland Cavs uniform as he got swept in the Finals by the Spurs.
"We were very fortunate at that time to get him so early but at this point he's grown," he remarked before his Spurs began practice at the AA Arena. "He doesn't care what you all say. He knows basketball better than everybody put together in this room. He goes and plays the game and does what's necessary. So he'll be a lot more of a problem than he was in '07. That's for sure."