The scene at the end of game seven of the NBA finals last week evoked a flurry of compliments on social media and talk radio. Before donning their championship caps and T-shirts and preening for the media, or even gathering to celebrate together as a team, members of the Miami Heat embraced their opponents, most notably San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich, a notorious grump.
It was a rare genuine moment in a league seemingly dedicated to style over substance. The normally dour Popovich appeared to be thrilled for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as he tightly hugged them, smiling and speaking encouraging words. The mutual respect was sincere and unscripted, for once.
I've rooted against the Heat ever since 2010, when James signed a free agent contract to join Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami and the trio literally counted the championship rings they'd win together before ever playing a minute of basketball. James' move from Cleveland to Miami represented everything wrong with a league where teams like the Milwaukee Bucks seem destined to remain forever irrelevant while those from glamour markets like Miami are stocked and restocked with studs.
For those of us with that mindset, it was easy to pull for the Spurs in this series. Tim Duncan is quiet, Tony Parker is French and Popovich is a master of the single-word answer. They're the polar opposites of the chest-thumping Heat. But refusing to appreciate James' legitimate greatness is increasingly difficult, especially after he tallied 37 points, 12 rebounds and five three-pointers in game seven. If Popovich can give LeBron props, the rest of us should as well.