LeBron James' legacy, continually subject to re-evaluation, was about to be updated Tuesday night. The ball was in the air in the closing seconds of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, with the Miami Heat trailing by three points in a desperate quest to extend their season.
As James launched his tying attempt, everything was playing out right in front of us: Make that shot, and LeBron would be lionized for a clutch delivery. Miss, and he would have to live with a bitter defeat that all of us would remind him about forever.
He missed. Somehow, it didn't matter.
And now, thanks to Chris Bosh's rebound, Ray Allen's phenomenal shot and Miami's eventual overtime victory, James gets one more chance Thursday against San Antonio to win another championship and reshape the way he's viewed.
He's earned that opportunity — even if the Spurs really should be planning a parade today, not preparing for Game 7.
How would you like to be Scott Layden? Fifteen years ago, as a Jazz executive, he watched Michael Jordan steal Game 6 in the end. And now, as the Spurs' assistant general manager, he was positioned to earn his first championship ring after more than 30 years in the NBA, only to have everything work against his team — even after LeBron missed that tying shot.
The difference, of course, is that Jordan's Game 6 performance clinched Chicago's title, while San Antonio is still playing. But I'm a big believer that you get only so many chances to win these things, and the Spurs blew their wonderful opportunity with a five-point lead in the last 28.2 seconds Tuesday.
Amid whatever cosmic forces and NBA conspiracies were converging in the interest of creating a Game 7, all the Spurs needed was another free throw or a rebound of James' miss to secure the championship. They couldn't come through, bringing coach Gregg Popovich's substitutions into question and costing them probably their best shot at dethroning LeBron.
So we're down to one last judgment of James in 2012-13. He's held to a higher standard than any professional athlete, which is his own doing. When he went to Miami in the summer of 2010, I scoffed about how he said he picked "the greatest challenge."
Yet in a way, he was right. By joining Bosh and Dwyane Wade, he was setting up himself for a title-or-nothing production every season.
James only heightened those expectations with his famous forecast of multiple championships when the three were introduced. And he hardly reduced my resentment toward him after the Heat lost to Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals and he basically said the . of us should find no joy in his misery as we resumed our pathetic lives.
"All the people that [were] rooting me on to fail ... they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life before they woke up today," he said. "They have the same personal problems they have today. ... They have to get back to the real world at some point."
Again, he was probably right. So I've moved beyond wanting LeBron to suffer, but I certainly want him and the Heat to earn everything they get. James chose the beach of least resistance by forsaking Cleveland and going to Miami. But these championships are not coming nearly as easily as any of us imagined when this super team was assembled, and that's a good thing.
The Heat have won a bunch of basketball games in three seasons, but they've fallen short of absolute world domination. They should be finished right now in 2012-13, in fact, making James 1 for 3 in his title pursuits.
It's the Spurs' own fault that this little exercise will continue through Thursday night. Yet anyone would have to say that if LeBron James ends up winning again, he'll be a deserving champion.