NBA Finals 2013: LeBron, the Heat, and the champions we've always wanted

USA TODAY Sports

Everyone loves to hate the Heat, but after a terrific seven-game series with the Spurs, it's impossible not to recognize their greatness.

The Spurs are such a fitting foil for the Heat that it's a shame it took three seasons to see it. Young vs. old, free agent extravaganza vs. savvy drafting, sunglasses and Advil vs. small-town Texas life: there's no end to the contrasts, and it's a large part of what made this intoxicating television.

There might always be selfish stars in the NBA, but despite Miami's bright light indulgence, these Finals put an end to the thought of selfish champions. The Heat play the game The Right Way, a term first patented by the Spurs. Hero Ball is for those who spend the first three weeks of June in casinos or on golf courses. These Finals were every bit about the intelligence of the teams as they were about specific gifts of athleticism. The ball movement, the cutting, the help defense -- it was all on display.

Detractors of the great game of basketball will never cease to exist, but those folks should really find a new crusade. This was fantastic theater that provided a world full of basketball fans with more than one moment that felt emotionally moving.

And the Heat are great champions. Very few watch the NBA without a vested interest in one team in particular, so it makes sense that no one likes Miami. After all, they destroyed your favorite team this season and didn't apologize for it. But what gets lost in rooting for laundry is that the Heat aren't only perfect overlords, but also the realization of what basketball fans have always wanted from their world-beating superpowers.

"The Decision" made LeBron James a villain and it's taken time to forgive him, but what was framed as outright dickishness was really nothing more than a tone-deaf man accepting some bad advice. That's worthy of a certain amount of criticism but it's not a crime, not when half the NFL is committing real ones. Don't forget, The Decision raised millions for the Boys & Girls Club near and dear to James' heart. What was taken as a nationally televised shanking of LeBron's downtrodden hometown was never genuinely intended that way.

The Heat's Big Three took less money to make this happen. Isn't that what the public yearns for, personal sacrifice for the greater good of the team and the community? James has plenty of money in endorsements, sure, but $250 million from adidas didn't convince a decent man like Derrick Rose to take less money from the cap-strapped Chicago Bulls. No person is ever less of a man for strangling every last penny of their worth, but we should credit James and Dwyane Wade for forgoing millions to have a stronger supporting cast.

It's just funny, or maybe sad, that the Heat are always framed as America's chief evildoers, because it's not hard to make an argument that this is a group of legitimately respectable people. Michael Jordan twice punched teammates during practice while his Bulls were chasing championships; all LeBron ever did was choreograph seven-step handshakes and dance moves.

Put it this way: if you found yourself as a student at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School circa the first half of the last decade, there seems to be a great chance you'd leave with a favorable opinion of James. If you were enrolled at North Carolina's Laney High around 1980, Michael Jordan probably would have been the guy stealing your lunch money and never letting you forget about your most embarrassing moments in gym class.

Which is to say James has the upper hand on Jordan in one very specific sense: he's a much nicer fellow. This isn't your villain, America. This is the guy wondering why we all can't be friends.

Legacy talk is inevitable after LeBron and the Heat secured their second title, and for all of the hand-wringing over it, it's a large part of what makes us watch. LeBron doesn't care what the detractors say about him on sports radio or Twitter; he's too busy taking his friends on vacation, picking up the tab at the club and spending time inspiring youth through his play and his actions.

And so we kiss the NBA goodbye for a few long months after a trying, injury-plagued regular season and a breathtaking Finals showdown that made it all seem worth it. The NBA is healthier than ever, and players like James and his cross-court foes in San Antonio are the reason. Fail to embrace at your own discretion, but there's nothing here not to like.

More from SB Nation:

Flannery: LeBron's performance for the ages

Ziller: LeBron made right "Decision" | Watch LBJ's message to haters

Lesson of the Spurs: Hang on | Duncan's sustained brilliance

Video: No, Bill Simmons, you can't talk about "The Decision"

Dwyane Wade gives himself a new nickname

NBA mock draft: Best-case scenarios | Scouting reports | Big Board

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.