In the history of the National Basketball Association, no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals to win a 7-game series and claim the championship trophy. So, when the final buzzer sounded on San Antonio’s Game 4 shellacking of the Miami Heat, giving the visiting Spurs a 3 to 1 lead in the series, the following question by a Miami Heat beat writer in the post-game news conference with Heat stars LeBron James and Duane Wade was fairly predictable: “LeBron, obviously it’s not over, but you know the numbers as well as anybody in the league. You know that nobody in the Finals has ever come back from 3-1 down. That being the case, what’s the attitude right now? Is it just about Sunday (Game 5)? Is it about making history? Or is it about something else?” What was somewhat less predictable was LeBron’s response: “We’ve put ourselves in a position where making history is the only option left.” As soon as I heard it, I wondered if anyone in the room paused as I did to consider how profoundly important and insightful LeBron’s seemingly simple sentiment was, not only in the context of the Heat’s immediate struggle, but for all who are struggling against seemingly insurmountable obstacles and odds.
LeBron’s right. Whether we’re talking about sports, medicine, education, science, the prospect of realizing our dreams, the likelihood of succeeding in business, etc., we tend to look to the past and assume that it is a valid predictor of the future. “No one’s ever come from x number of strokes back after 54 holes at the British or U.S. Opens and won the tournament.” “No one’s ever been able to find a cure for x.” “No x year-old has ever qualified to do y?” “No one who’s suffered an x type of injury has ever walked again.” “No one’s ever climbed x mountain.” “No one’s ever survived more than x years after being diagnosed with this disease.” “No one from this family has ever graduated from college.” “No one born this premature has ever lived, let alone lived a normal life.” And yet, that same history has taught us, time and time again, that it is being “re-made” in each of those arenas (and dozens of others) with every passing moment. World and other sporting records are being broken, cures for diseases previously believed to be incurable are being discovered, people are outliving their prognoses, those once thought incapable of hearing, speaking, seeing, accomplishing, etc. are doing all of those things and more. In short, “champions” are being crowned and celebrated every day – often in the most historically improbable of circumstances.
Why? Because sometimes, when history is the only option left “funny” things happen – not the least of which is that everyone involved in the process begins to wonder why it is that x has never happened before and, more importantly, to focus on what’s required to change that, to make it happen now – to be the first in history to do it. On occasion, that sense of wonder turns to resolve, a commitment not to rest until the barrier has been broken and history made. In the midst of those struggles, we begin to discover, likely for the first time, how truly courageous, capable and resilient we are – and that, in itself, is worth the battle whether the ultimate goal is accomplished or not. I’m not suggesting for a minute that the Miami Heat are poised to become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3 to 1 deficit, beat the Spurs in 3 straight games and hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy as the 2014 NBA Champions. What I am saying is: If they don’t do it this year it won’t be just because no one in history has ever done it before or for lack of effort, nor will it mean that the next team that finds themselves down 3 to 1 in the Finals won’t be the first. It will be because this year the Spurs proved to have what it takes to be champions – nothing more, nothing less.
Heck, you need not look beyond the 2013 Finals to appreciate that. After all, I’m quite certain prior to that series, no team in NBA Finals history had ever been down 5 points with 28.2 seconds left and won a Game 6 – or any Finals game for that matter – and yet, the Heat did just that (http://tinyurl.com/kwrfo9j)!