However, they could not get out of the West, even while finishing with the best record in the conference the last two years, just as Cleveland could not in the East during James’ past two seasons there.
“I hoped to be back here. Whether he would be here or not, I couldn’t predict that,” the 37-year-old Duncan said. “Knowing the player that he was then and the trajectory he was on, I had no doubt he would be back here. I had no doubt he would be tops in this league at some point, and I’m glad and honored to be back here playing against him.”
The Spurs finished a sweep of Memphis on May 27, while the Heat were forced to overcome a rugged Indiana team and the struggles of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a seven-game series that wrapped up on Monday.
That set up a finals between teams built in decidedly different ways, but with mutual respect. While others around the league seethed, Popovich even called Pat Riley to offer congratulations after the Heat architect signed James and Bosh in 2010.
It gives James a chance to pay the Spurs back for their 2007 romp, when they forced the Cavaliers into the worst offensive performance in finals history.
“I believe that after that finals, he probably always obviously wanted to get back again, but I think he probably always wanted to get back and play them,” Wade said. “So obviously having this opportunity right now is probably something he always dreamed of, of getting back to the finals and playing the Spurs again.”
The Spurs’ Big Three did not have to endure the same wait to win. Duncan won a title in just his second season and Parker was only 21 when he earned his first. Yet eventually they stalled, so they are as eager for this opportunity as James.
“When I was 21 and I won my first one, it was kind of fast and we think it’s going to happen every year, we think it’s easy, but after a lot of years in the league, you realize it’s really hard to go to the finals,” Parker said. “Now we take nothing for granted. We appreciate every moment and we’ll see what happens.”