For as much as we love bad blood, trash talk, ill will and general Birdmania/Pendergraphery that often accompanies emotionally charged playoff matchups between teams competing for an NBA championship, sometimes it's just so much nicer when everyone's willing to praise their opponents' skills and talents. Isn't that what your mom would want (unless your mom has a thirst for your adversaries' blood, in which case, yikes and let's move on)?
Luckily for those of us who sometimes just like it when everyone isn't arguing — which is something that makes basketball Twitter/basketball comments sections/basketball radio/other places kind of the worst at times during the postseason — the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs behaved like they were part of a mutual admiration society during their pre-NBA Finals media sessions and practices. While their smiles will surely turn to snarls once they cross the white lines for Game 1 on Thursday, the players and coaches of the two championship combatants mostly said very nice things about each other on Wednesday.
Here are nine of the nicest, the kind of things that will going to be awful hard to turn into bulletin-board material heading into Game 1. (Which, of course, is the sneakiest and most insidious strategic trick of all.)
• "He's 50, 60, 70 times better than he was in 2007." — Dwyane Wade, taking LeBron James' post-Game 7 comments and ratcheting them up by several factors of 10.
• "We always felt all season long that the Spurs were the best team in the West. So we think it's fitting to face them." — Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who certainly wouldn't have said the same thing if it were the Oklahoma City Thunder or Memphis Grizzlies on the opposing bench, no way, nuh-uh, no sir.
• "Truly amazing. That's how amazing. I agree with you. How amazing? How am I supposed to answer that? Really, really amazing. Not trying to be a wiseguy. What am I going to say? He's ridiculous. He's amazing, as you said." — Gregg Popovich, really underselling Tim Duncan's worth after a reporter asked what he thought of his All-NBA big man.
• "At this point, he's grown. He doesn't care what you all say. He knows basketball better than everybody put together in this room. He goes and plays the game and does what's necessary. So he'll be a lot more of a problem than he was in '07. That's for sure." — Pop on LeBron, then and now.
• "I think it's him staying in shape, his conditioning level. I think it's the great support that they have in San Antonio. Also I think it's him being a true professional to the game. Giving everything to the game. And when you give everything to the game, the game rewards you." — LeBron on Duncan.
• "He was the best player in the Western Conference playoffs each game, and we're well aware of that. Every time he stepped on the court, he was the best player. The most impactful player, and he was driving their success." — Spoelstra on Tony Parker.
• "I don't know. Unless he's a prophet, I can't say. He is a great coach — maybe he did have that trick in the bag." — Udonis Haslem on Pop's famed (and expensive) decision to have Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green fly back to San Antonio to rest rather than suit up for the Spurs' first meeting with the Heat this season.
• "I had no doubt he would be tops in this league at some point. And I'm glad and honored to be back here playing against him." — Duncan, thinking back to his post-2007 Finals conversation with LeBron.
• "It's kind of like our practices, playing each other." — Chris Bosh on what he expects defending the Spurs to be like, which is pretty decent praise, considering the Heat led the league in offensive efficiency this year.