The NBA Finals are always high stakes, but there are several storylines behind the seven game series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat that tips off Wednesday night that could turn it into a particularly memorable showdown.
Friends-turned-nemeses — LeBron James will don the Lakers purple and gold against the Heat, whom he helped lead to back-to-back titles during his four-year stint in South Beach that ended in 2014. James’ decision to leave the Heat and return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who drafted him 2003, was received warmly around the league and paid off when he won he brought a ring to Ohio in 2016, but Miami fans still have a sour taste in their mouths, and James’ relationship with Heat president, Pat Riley, has reportedly diminished after the abrupt departure. James has downplayed the personal aspect of the series, but there is history there.
It’s about time — Most franchises wouldn’t be too concerned about a 10-year gap between Finals appearances, but the Lakers are different. They’ve been to 32 Finals throughout their history, the most of any team in the NBA, but it’s been a decade since they made it this far and won their last championship behind the late Kobe Bryant, whose presence will certainly loom over the series.
Legacies — Any postseason series James plays in at this point in his Hall of Fame career has an affect on his legacy, but securing another ring would go a long way. James has made nine of the last 10 NBA finals, including this year’s, but some of his critics still knock him for going 3-6 in his previous appearances. A title would also likely throw James’ co-star Anthony Davis into a conversation about the best big men of all time. On the Miami side, Erik Spoelstra is continuing to cement himself as one of the league’s great coaches, and their leader Jimmy Butler is trying to establish that he’s capable of being the centerpiece on a title-winning team. Tim O’Donnell