LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The trophy ceremony plans are getting finalized. Boxes are being shipped out of the NBA bubble in advance of the looming shutdown. Hotel rooms, sometime in the next few days, will be filled again by regular people looking for their long-awaited Disney fix.
For LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, the stage is set.
The NBA Finals — and the longest season in league history, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and 4-1/2 month shutdown that followed — could end on Friday night, with James and the Lakers going into Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead over the Miami Heat. The Heat are simply looking for a way to extend this matchup into a Game 6 that would be played on Sunday, while James is looking for his fourth ring and, he thinks, a whole new level of respect from L.A. fans.
“What I’ve learned being a Laker is that the Laker faithful don’t give a damn what you’ve done before,” James said. “... They don’t care about your resume at all until you become a Laker. You’ve got to do it as a Laker, and then they respect you.”
James is 3-0 in finals close-out opportunities, and 3-1 leads in the title series are almost always turned into trophies. The exception was in 2016, when James led Cleveland back from 3-1 down against Golden State.
The Heat know all this. They don’t seem bothered.
“Our guys are the ones who are out there in the arena marred by dust, blood, sweat and tears,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our guys are the ones out there — 28 other teams aren’t out there. Everybody else is basically on their comfortable couches spectating on this one. Our guys are the ones that are in the arena, and that’s right where they are meant to be.”
Some of that was Spoelstra quoting Theodore Roosevelt’s famed 1910 speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” which over time has become better known as “The Man in the Arena.” It’s one of James’ favorites as well, even getting cited by him earlier in these NBA Finals.