Miami Heat President Pat Riley, left, speaks to Coach Erik Spoelstra after… (Steve Mitchell / Associated…)
MIAMI — When Pat Riley trademarked the phrase "three-peat" back in 1988, he didn't envision it potentially paying off quite this way.
Almost 25 years and 2,400 miles removed from his days as the Lakers' coach, the Miami Heat president could become a rich(er) man if the Heat win it all again next season.
Two down, one to go after Miami outlasted the San Antonio Spurs in seven games of the NBA Finals, preceded by the Heat surviving the Indiana Pacers in seven games, and if there was a more subdued championship celebration than the one exhibited Thursday, please send a link to it.
Heat players were almost more exhausted than exhilarated, LeBron James seeking out none other than Tim Duncan as the first person to hug after Miami's 95-88 victory, a respectful move from a two-time champ (for now) to a four-time champ (forever, perhaps).
If part of the fun in these Finals was watching two teams go at each other at such a high level, the other part was waiting to see if James would win another big one … or fail miserably.
Give him a smiley-face icon, James winning the last two Finals to improve to 2-2 on the big stage.
Michael Jordan was a flawless 6-0 in championships rounds and Kobe Bryant a solid 5-2 so far, but Wilt Chamberlain went 2-5 in Finals play and Magic Johnson barely eked out a .500 mark, going 5-4.
James is only 28. He won't be 29 until two months into next season.
"Hopefully people will leave him alone a little more now," teammate Shane Battier said. "He takes a lot of heat, I think, undeservedly. He's the best player on the planet. And hopefully now with two titles, he'll get more of the benefit of the doubt."
Add a second consecutive Finals MVP trophy to the four regular-season ones James accumulated the last five years.
Also combine his averages the last seven games — 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, seven assists — with the fact he covered point guards, centers, whatever the Heat needed the last two months.
"He probably lost 12, 15 pounds in this playoff run, expending so much energy," Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team concluded its 23rd playoff game.
Nobody in their right mind would criticize James after he followed up a triple-double in Game 6 with the most points (37) in a Finals Game 7 since Jerry West had 42 in 1969.
"I listen to pundits all the time," Riley said. "We live in the world of immediate blame and immediate praise, and they're always going to take a shot at the guy at the top of the mountain. LeBron is the greatest player in the world. One of the greatest leaders I have been around. He deserves everything that he gets right now."
Even though Chris Bosh was scoreless in Game 7, the future seems bright for Miami's Big Three, all under contract for one more season until they can become free agents by opting out of the final two years of their deals.
They're now 2-1 in Finals play after coming together via two publicly derided events, "The Decision" and the raucous laser-light event called "The Welcome Party."
As recently as last week, Johnson predicted it was time to break up Miami's trio, saying the rest of the league had caught up to the Heat.
But the real Big Three turned out to be from Miami, not San Antonio.
It's tougher to predict what happens to the Spurs. Manu Ginobili, who turns 36 in July, faded badly in Games 6 and 7 and recently hinted at retirement. Duncan, 37, and Tony Parker, 31, each have two more years on their contracts.
Parker didn't like a postgame insinuation that this might have been the last time the Spurs' trio played together.
"Can't believe you're asking that question," he said, admonishing a reporter. "It's been five, six years [that] you're saying we're too old. I'm not going to answer that."
The off-season questions the Heat face are now mostly medical.
Dwyane Wade, 31, had some questionable playoff games before rebounding with 32 points in Game 4, 25 in Game 5 and 23 in Game 7. He didn't think he would need surgery for a deep bone bruise in his right knee that hindered him for two months. He had surgery on his other knee last summer.
"I talked to my knees [Thursday]. We had a conversation," he said almost an hour after Game 7, acknowledging his giddiness came from champagne. "And I told them, 'Listen, both of you guys, y'all can give me one great game, you'll have a great summer.' So I'm going to treat my knees very well this summer. And rest them."
James also implied he would enjoy some down time.
He'll get married soon and take part in some summer camps as an instructor.
James seemed quietly confident as he spoke after Game 7. And why not?
Before he stepped down from his postgame interview session, he looked over a room filled with reporters and thanked them … in a sense.
"I'll see you guys when I see you guys. Please continue to motivate me," he said. "I need you guys."