In June of 2013, the National Basketball Association, as it does every year, determined the league championship through a Best of Seven series. The opponents were the Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs and the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat. The series went to the entire seven games, and ended with a 4-3 victory by the Heat, earning them the NBA Championship.
The Finals are the culmination of the playoffs, which are themselves often considered a second season to the main, 82 game NBA season. In the main season, the Heat and the Spurs had the 1st and 3rd best records in the NBA, respectively. The Oklahoma Thunder had a slightly better record than the Spurs, but were eliminated earlier in the playoffs.
Jerry Seinfeld once famously remarked that fans of professional sports are "cheering laundry", since teams are random groups of players whose only common feature is that they are all wearing the same uniform. In the case of the San Antonio Spurs, this is probably not true: the core of the team has been playing together for over ten years. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker had won three championships together over a decade, and were looking to add another. The Miami Heat, on the other hand, were put together as a "superteam" of stars from other teams, the centerpiece being LeBron James, by acclamation the greatest player active in the NBA. So many people took the meeting to be something of a match between not just teams, but between philosophies: the steady, reliable Spurs versus the flashy Heat.
The Heat won the series, and while sports commentators would love to make a narrative out of that: that Tim Duncan got tired, or that LeBron James natural talent was too much to overcome, the series was an extremely closely fought one. The Spurs outscored the Heat 684-679 across seven games, and the series was not decided until the final minute of game seven. These were two very evenly matched teams, and the series was a dramatic and hotly contested series. Also, a very clean one: in seven games of rough play, neither team earned a technical foul. Both teams solidified their legacies, although the Heat and James obviously did much more.
Basketball, and sports in general, are not seen as important by everyone, but beyond the apparent outcomes of this year's contest, the outcome will have wider ranging effects.
The typical biography of a basketball player for some time has been that of a young, African-American man who was recognized as a standout as early as junior high school, who was recruited for college as a teenager, and who played two years at a midwestern university with a good basketball program before being drafted early. He would then take a few years to adjust to the NBA, and would peak sometime around the age of 26 to 28, before slowly becoming an elder statesman and retiring in his early 30s. What is interesting about this NBA finals is how much it has had power to change expectations of what NBA players are. The Spurs were the only team in the NBA with a minority of players from the United States. The Spurs three core players are all over the age of 30. One of the Spurs newer players, Danny Green, who set a record for three point shots made in the playoffs, had played in the NBA minor leagues for several seasons before joining the Spurs. Almost all of the Spurs players came from nationalities, ages, and career paths that were atypical of NBA players, and yet their team was a contender.
So while it is not a certainty, I am guessing that the 2013 NBA finals will expand the international focus of the NBA, and will encourage teams to build their rosters not just from the young college stars, but from players whose skills didn't mature until later. On the other hand, it might just be remembered as the year that LeBron James won the 2nd of his 8 consecutive titles.