Tim Duncan pulled LeBron James aside after the San Antonio Spurs swept his Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals and delivered some advice that now seems prophetic.
Duncan sought out James in the locker room after the deciding game, praising him for a great series and telling him that the league would be his someday.
On Thursday, as the Miami Heat closed the Finals and a second straight title by beating Duncan and the Spurs in Game 7, it seems those words have finally come true.
For years, LeBron James was viewed as immensely talented but lacking in the clutch. When he bolted Cleveland for Miami in 2010, joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the team was expected to roll to titles. But it didn’t go that way at first, as they lost to the Dallas Mavericks and LeBron James shrunk from the spotlight.
He was seen as lacking a killer instinct, not clutch the way Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant were. He was called soft.
But now that the Heat have won two straight championships — with LeBron‘s 37 points leading the way in Game 7 this year — those criticisms seem nullified.
As LeBron ascends, Tim Duncan and the Spurs seem on the decline. Duncan is 37, while Manu Ginobili is 36 and talking about retirement. The team seemed to have their fifth title in 14 years wrapped up in Game 6, but couldn’t hold a five-point lead with less than 30 seconds to go.
The team again had a chance in Game 7, trailing by two points with just under a minute to go, but Tim Duncan missed a running hook shot in the lane and missed again on the follow-up.
After the game, as the Miami Heat celebrated amid confetti and photographers, Tim Duncan and LeBron James again found themselves sharing a hug and a few words. This time, Duncan didn’t need to say it — this is LeBron’s league now.