MIAMI — His daily NBA Finals podium duties had just come to their predetermined end in the event-level corridor. LeBron James then crossed the AmericanAirlines Arena court, a court he will need to own again on Thursday night, and surveyed the scene of impostors with credentials swinging from their necks.
"I get to do media again tomorrow," he said to the team official escorting him.
He said it with sarcasm, and it was hard to blame him, considering the irrelevance and—lately—inanity of his press duties, compared to the other activities and objectives on his agenda.
Year after year, day after day, James has fielded queries about anything and everything related to his play and personality. He's even been subjected to the occasional diatribe from a self-described "well-versed verbal jouster" who founded a website with three exclamation points in its name ("Bottomline!!!").
In Wednesday's media session, James took 21 questions from an assortment of reporters and rabble-rousers about everything from Erik Spoelstra's tedious two-hour film session to Mario Chalmers' extreme confidence crisis to Chris Bosh's lack of touches to the Heat's resilience since the unfortunate 2011 Finals, bouncing back with a victory after each of the last 13 postseason losses.
And, yes, prior to Thursday's Game 4, he will receive some more while frowning in front of his locker.
Those questions will likely include one he will curtly decline to answer, related to a report by ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein suggesting that the Heat hope to get him, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to accept less money so they can convince Carmelo Anthony to join him in Miami.
But, really, there's only one question that matters now for James and his current team, who are at this point trying to earn the 2014 championship, not the 2014 free-agent sweepstakes.
It's a question in two parts that no one should need to pose to them.
It's one that they merely need to ask themselves.
Do they want to define their own legacies or are they comfortable with others defining those legacies for them?
If it's the latter, then they might as well do what they did Tuesday.
They might as well start slowly and come apart quickly.
They might as well let the Spurs' shooters get their space, while crowding each other's.
They might as well expedite Kawhi Leonard's ascent to stardom.
They might as well commit another torrent of turnovers, while choosing not to commit to closeouts.
They might as well give Heat fans, who have been unusually engaged of late, every reason to stream for the exits in the final minutes, resigned to the realities of a 3-1 series deficit against an elite opponent.
They might as well embody all of the narratives their naysayers keep stored away, ready to be gleefully reintroduced.
They might as well embolden all the critics they repeatedly quieted or discredited during the past two title runs.
They might as well invite all of the attacks, the ones they probably know by heart:
- James, teetering toward a 2-3 overall record in his NBA Finals appearances, can't consistently get it done when it counts and can never be considered for the mythical Jordan crown.
- Wade, playing unevenly in the Finals after a season of playing infrequently, can no longer be called a reliable, suitable sidekick for James.
- Bosh, oddly ignored at times by teammates, has become too passive and perimeter-oriented to be deemed a core contributor.
- Chalmers, shrinking in the face of "one of the toughest challenges I've ever been through," must be excised from the team's future equation, even if he's willing to come back at a cut-rate cost.
- The bench, outplayed by the Spurs' reserves—as proud veterans Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem sniff only garbage time—requires a complete restocking beyond just the replacement for the retiring Battier.
- Micky Arison and Pat Riley can't be counted on to provide what's necessary to create a modern-day dynasty—not after Arison chose not to pay the freight for the popular, versatile Mike Miller and not with Riley's most recent offseason additions (Michael Beasley, Greg Oden) failing to bear any Finals fruit.
- Erik Spoelstra simply wasn't up to the task and pulled down his stars.
- All the accomplishments of the past four years now warrant asterisks, with the 2012 championship the product of a lockout-shortened regular season and the 2013 championship the fluky result of the most unlikely sequence in NBA history.
And on and on.
If the Heat are OK with all of that noise, all of that nonsense, then they might as well repeat what they did Tuesday, when they were responsible for what Bosh called "probably the worst game that we've played together," which made for an even worse review session.
"It's just disappointing to see the lack of effort and the lack of focus and execution that we had," Bosh said on Wednesday. "To be honest, we stopped trusting each other a little bit, at least that's my interpretation on offense and on defense. Overall, our guys weren't doing our jobs. We all weren't doing our jobs. When you get to this level against a very good team like this, we pushed each other to the brink last year, it's disappointing to see the lack of effort. We've got to do better."
"We've got to do more," Wade said.
"We have to bring a better approach," James said.
Well, they don't have to do anything.
They can rest on the past.
They can plug their ears with their rings.
They can stand by as the Spurs speed by, while the critics slander their names and stomp on their story.
Or they can stand up and choose to keep writing their own history—exerting every bit of the necessary mental and physical energy until they get the endings they envisioned.
Earlier in the Finals, James had a strong word for all the legacy talk, the public's preoccupation for comparing everything that he and his team does to something or someone else: "Stupid."
Perhaps so, but are they still interested in making their skeptics feel that way?
They can collectively offer an answer on Thursday night.