With their second NBA championship in as many years, the Miami Heat are well on their way to fulfilling the promise made when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade three summers ago.
When the Big Three first came together, basketball observers seemed to fall into two camps. They either believed the Heat could not win a title with such a lopsided roster (three All-Stars with a motley crew of marginal role players and past-their-prime veterans), or thought Miami would challenge the 1995/96 Bulls' record 87-win season (72 regular season victories plus 15 playoff wins).
It turned out that neither side was right. James' infamous "not five, not six, not seven" championship guarantee will likely never come to fruition, but the Big Three have managed to turn Miami into a championship-winning juggernaut that is both dominant and vulnerable at the same time.
The current version of the Heat embody this duality. Miami won 27 games in a row during the regular season, and 37 of the final 39 games. But after breezing through the first two rounds of the playoffs (sweeping Milwaukee in the first round, then beating Chicago in five during the conference semifinals), Miami needed to win two Game 7s to wrap up its title defense.
Against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami looked like it could be undone by Indiana's mega-center, Roy Hibbert. Then the efficient, veteran San Antonio Spurs pushed Miami to the brink of elimination. Miami could not string two wins in a row against either team until Game 7 of the Finals against San Antonio.
And despite Miami's status as two-time defending champs, they will not be overwhelming favorites heading into the 2013/14 season. Rather, they will be the favorite to win the 2014 NBA Finals, but no one expects the Bulls' 72-win season to be topped. Indeed, even with a 27-game win streak this season (the second best in NBA history), the Heat still finished with 66 wins, 6 short of the record.
Just as LeBron James has had to make his own legacy, independent of Michael Jordan's, Magic Johnson's, or anyone else's, so to will the Heat make their own legacy. They won't be the 90s-era Bulls or 80s-era Lakers, but if Heat president Pat Riley can keep the Big Three together past next season and continue to provide them with a strong supporting cast, the Heat are well on their way to creating a legacy that future dynasties will be measured against.