MIAMI—True respect between sports organizations is a bit of an anomaly these days. When in competition for the same prize, it's natural to highlight your adversary's weaknesses, rather than praise him for his strengths.
But if it exists, it exists between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, the pillars of stability over the past two decades in the Eastern and Western Conferences. From Tim Duncan telling LeBron James, after sweeping him out of the 2007 NBA Finals, that "this is gonna be your league in a little while"; to James and Gregg Popovich constantly praising each other; to Erik Spoelstra constantly referring to the Spurs as the model franchise.
So, after the Heat mostly held their tongues while eliminating a team they don't like in the least—the Indiana Pacers—few observers expected them to engage in any sort of trash talk prior to this NBA Finals rematch with San Antonio.
So even the slightest bit—call it "litter" talk"—warranted some attention.
After surviving a six-game series with Oklahoma City, the usually demure Duncan told TNT's David Aldridge during an on-court interview that, "We've got four more to win. We'll do it this time."
Then, in his postgame press conference, he added, "We're happy to have another opportunity at it. We're happy it's the Heat again...we'll be ready for them."
Again, that's not exactly Richard Sherman-esque, or Lance Stephenson-ian.
Still, James' ears perked and eyebrows raised when he heard them, even though he recognized that Duncan was showing belief in his team, "which he should."
"I think both teams are professionals," James said Monday. "Both teams have a state-of-the-art organization. But they don't like us. They don't. I could sense it from Timmy's comments over the last couple days. They wanted this, they wanted us, and we'll be ready for the challenge."
Did Duncan's comments bother him?
"No, no, no, no, no, why would it bother me?" James said. "I mean, at the end of the day, once you get on the floor, you got to play. You know, we're confident. We're not shying away from them. We want them too. They want us. They got us. And we look forward to Game 1."
Chris Bosh took it further, insisting the quotes could be turned to fuel, as if any more is needed with the Larry O'Brien Trophy on the line.
"It's a little different," Bosh said of his childhood idol, Duncan, making anything close to a guarantee. "But we love it, for extra motivation. We're coming into this thing without home court this year. We know nobody's going to hand anything to us and it's never easy. With that said, we're glad to get a little bit of extra added motivation for ourselves and our team. And anytime that we're not focusing, we just think back to that quote and it will lock us back in."
James said he didn't believe the dislike from the other side is personal.
"They said it," he said. "We left a sour taste in their mouth because of what happened. I'm not saying my words. They said it. They prepared from day one to get back to this moment. For us, all we can ask for is an opportunity. That's all we ask. We asked for an opportunity to be able to represent the Eastern Conference, and we worked our tails off to get back here. And whatever happens, happens. If we play our game, we give ourselves a chance to win, and win, lose or draw, we'll be all right with it."
And, as James put it, "No one's entitled. This is no one's championship. It isn't ours, it isn't theirs. It's two teams that [are] fighting for it."
Even after Monday, expect that the fighting will be refined to good, hard play.
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick.
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