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NBA Finals: Is it tougher to make it to the top or to stay there?

June 19, 2013
  • Miami's Big Three of Chris Bosh, left, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James exhale after the Heat's overtime victory over San Antonio in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Miami's Big Three of Chris Bosh, left, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James… (Rhona Wise / EPA )

Two years ago, Miami lost in the NBA Finals during the first year of the Big Three era. Last year, the Heat took the extra step and emerged as the league champion.

Now LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and their Heat teammates are a game away from repeating as champs -- but they're also a game away from ending the season as runners-up, as Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night will decide it all.

Writers from around Tribune Co. discuss which is harder, staying on top as defending champions or getting there in the first place? Please join the conversation with a comment of your own.

Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times

For various reasons, it’s tougher to repeat as an NBA champion than it is to win a first title. A defending champion tends to largely stay the same while others around you shake up their rosters in a bid to wipe out their weaknesses. (Unless you’re the cap-space hoarding Dallas Mavericks.) Your veteran core is one year older, making it more prone to injuries (hello, Dwyane Wade). Your focus can wane amid the season-long victory lap.

Add it all up and it’s little wonder why of the 63 NBA champions, teams have repeated as winners on only 20 occasions. It’s a feat to be revered even more than winning that often elusive first title.

K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune

Ask any player or coach who has been part of a repeat championship season -- or, to even a greater degree, a three-peat -- and this answer is obvious: Getting on top is hard. Staying there is even harder.

Forget the cliche of how once a team wins a title, it always gets the other team’s best shot -- although this cliche is somewhat true. It’s more the cumulative wear and tear of playing so many games the previous season and having to do it all over again. Playing deep into June makes it a nine-month season.

Plus, a first championship season for a talented team often has a feel of inevitability to it. Think Detroit Pistons breaking through the Boston Celtics’ stranglehold or the Chicago Bulls finally solving the Pistons.

But repeating is a different story. It takes continuity on a roster, perseverance through adversity and talent -- lots and lots of talent. Repeating has been in fashion since the Lakers did so in 1988. The Pistons, Bulls (twice), Rockets and Lakers (twice more) have accomplished it since.

Previous to 1988, it hadn’t been done since the 1969 Celtics. That’s because it’s hard.

It depends on the sport.

The NFL is the toughest sport of all to win your second title.

The extra playoff games a Super Bowl champion must play eventually take their toll on players’ careers. And, the year a team is trying to repeat as a Super Bowl champion, the league hits that team with a tougher schedule.

In the NBA, it’s tougher to win a first title.

The differences between regular-season and playoff basketball are significant -- so significant that it typically requires one or two post-seasons for players to adjust.

The difficulties Miami is having have nothing to do with winning a second title as opposed to a first title. They're facing an experienced team that’s playing better team ball. And, in the meantime, the play of two of Miami’s key stars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, has diminished significantly in these playoffs as opposed to last year’s.


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