SAN ANTONIO — Pat Riley knows how difficult it is to reach four consecutive NBA Finals. He's one of four coaches in NBA history to do it.
Riley also understands how difficult it is to win three consecutive NBA championships. That, he couldn't do when he coached the Lakers to the Finals from 1982-1985.
Riley, who is declining interview requests right now, is also the architect behind the Heat's rare run to four consecutive Finals, making him an integral component of two ultra-successful franchises. But as much as Riley loves telling stories, he has refrained from relaying his Lakers experiences and sharing any tips with this Heat group, Miami star Dwyane Wade said.
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Wade said he has heard "absolutely nothing" from Riley about playing in four consecutive Finals or trying to win three consecutive championships.
"He's letting us figure it out," Wade said. "It's not complete, but his story is pretty much there in the sense of what he was able to accomplish. I think he's letting Coach (Spoelstra) and he's letting this team write our own book.
The next novella in Miami's serial drama begins in Game 1 of the Finals as the Heat try to become the fourth franchise — and first team since the 2000-2002 Lakers — to win three consecutive titles. And whether players and coaches like it — and it's clear some don't — legacy talk is front and center for both teams. That's especially true for Heat star LeBron James.
Wednesday, James called talk of his legacy premature and "stupid."
"My legacy will speak for itself after I'm done playing," James said. "It's something I can't control. I worry about what I can control, and that's how I approach the game on and off the floor, every single day."
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ABC analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy dismissed the notion of anyone's legacy riding on this series. After all, James is a four-time regular-season MVP, two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP.
"It would be terrific accomplishment," Van Gundy said. "Winning championship is hard. Being in the Finals is hard. But a lot about how much you win is who you play with and who you play against. …This guy is an all-time great. I don't think his guy's greatness is directly tied always to his number of championships won because a lot of it comes down to circumstances."
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This series will not define James' legacy. After all, he's 29 years old . But another title can enhance it, putting him in an exclusive group of superstars who have won more than two titles.
Fairness aside, all-time greatness is often measured in championships. What is required to be in same category as Bill Russell, Michael Jordan Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird?
"Just be in this position to be able to win a third straight, it's a blessing. I couldn't ask for more," James said. "This is an opportunity for me to do what I always wanted to do and that's to continue to win championships. That's what I'm here for."
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But James isn't the only one trying to further enhance his legacy. Wade is going for a fourth championship, Ray Allen for a third, the Heat are trying to create a dynasty and don't forget the 43-year-old coach
Spoelstra is trying to win three consecutive titles, an accomplishment just three other coaches have reached, and with a third title he will join a short list (Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, John Kundla, Riley and Gregg Popovich) of coaches with more than two championships.
Even though Spoelstra has never been voted coach of the year, he is one of the game's best coaches, and Van Gundy called him a possible future Hall of Famer, along with James, Wade, Bosh and Allen.
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Spoelstra has done an outstanding job separating the gargantuan task of winning three titles in a row from the task of simply winning one. He has tried to alleviate the pressure by focusing on the moment, an approach James follows.
"Nobody wants to hear about it, but we talk about it all the time. We are a process team, and we live by the process, not by the result," Spoelstra said. "If you're doing the process the right way, eventually the result will hopefully take care of itself but that's not guaranteed. So the only thing you can focus on is the now."
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Spoelstra said the philosophy emerged from Miami's failure to beat Dallas in the 2011 Finals. The Heat weren't focused on the right things — too worried about looking too far ahead and then too worried about what happened in the past.
"Our first year everything was about anything but the now," Spoelstra said. "It developed some mental toughness for us. When you talk about legacy and context, when you talk about all that stuff, that doesn't win you a game. It doesn't.
"You have to go through the process of building habits and then go through the process of competition and figuring it out. Then when it's all said and done, everybody can look back on it and see what the result was."
No matter what the result is against the Spurs, Wade might have a chat with Riley about what Miami did.
"Hopefully, we can all share notes and see how we did it," he said. "But there is a lot of work to be done."
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