Then it was extra innings at Shea Stadium. On Tuesday night, it was overtime at American Airlines Arena. Different sport, different year, different personnel. Similar scenarios; so similar as to be unsettling and, at the same time, delicious. Game 6, 1986 World Series. Game 6, 2013 NBA Finals. The Mets survived the former, the Heat the latter.
Each was a remarkably compelling game, with enough changes of direction to make R.A. Dickey envious. Each game came replete with a 180 as sensational as any 360 in a dunking contest. A baseball rolled through the legs of the Red Sox's first baseman 27 years ago and made a forever goat of a fine player, Bill E. Buckner. A championship slipped through the fingers of a team Tuesday night, though no singular Spur can be held responsible for the devastating defeat, not as responsible as Buckner still is perceived. In the case of the Spurs, it was E-team.
Of course, the Spurs weren't fighting a curse; they hadn't sold the greatest player in their sport's history to finance "No, No, Nanette." And they hadn't waited decades to win a ring. Indeed, they had won four in the previous 14 seasons. They were chasing "One for the Thumb."
But they were opposed by the team that had dominated the NBA as the Mets had dominated the National League in '86. Incidentally, the Mets won the NL East by 21 1/2 games that year. The Heat finished 22 games ahead of the Hawks in the Southeast Division.
More similarities exist. It has been well-documented that the Boston clubhouse had been prepared for a post-Game 6 celebration. The World Series trophy had been moved to the visiting clubhouse down the long, curved corridor that connected it to the Mets' quarters, a scenario matched Tuesday night in Miami when the O'Brien Trophy was brought to public view.
The Heat didn't go so far as the Mets in one regard, thank goodness. The AAA message board never flashed premature congratulations for the Spurs as the Shea's board had inadvertently done for the Sox.
But the Spurs were on the verge of winning, ending the NBA season with an upset that would tarnish and render meaningless all the Heat had achieved in the regular season, an .805 winning percentage, and the earlier rounds of the playoffs. What would it matter that the James Gang had withstood a serious challenge from the Pacers -- just as the Mets had survived an intense series against the Astros -- if the final stroke of the season were a defeat?
The aura of invincibility, already diminished, would have been eliminated.
In 1986, the Mets were quite aware that 108 victories and overcoming Mike Scott's Astros would have meant little without rings to validate their performance.
* * * * *
But the Heat had Lebron as the Mets had Mookie. Two men with common surnames readily identified by their first names who played with uncommon energy. James was magnificent; Wilson was fleet and lucky. He sped toward first base with a rabbit's foot at the end of each leg. We still can't say whether his sprint would have reached the base before Buckner's bowed legs had the roller been played cleanly.
Of course, each had help, some from an unlikely source. Manu Ginobili didn't distinguish himself in the fourth quarter Tuesday, and neither did Gregg Popovich. Why was Tim Duncan on the bench when rebounds were going to the Heat almost exclusively? Neither Rich Gedman nor John McNamara distinguished himself on Oct. 25, 1986. How was the pitch from Bob Stanley to Mookie, the one that scored Kevin Mitchell, not a passed ball on Gedman? How could the catcher have played that pitch so Cleveland cavalierly with the tying run on third?
And why was Dave Stapleton on the bench and not at first base when Mookie's ground ball changed history?
Lebron had Chris Bosh and Ray Allen as accomplices; Mookie had Gary Carter, Ray Knight and Mitchell.
Before Carter's single initiated the Mets' two-out rally, a network camera found Davey Johnson in the dugout, exasperated. As he sat, he slammed his back into the back of the bench. Before the Heat prevailed Tueaday night, a camera found Pat Riley, a picture of consternation.
In some ways, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series made the deciding game seem anticlimatic. It wasn't. See the Mets' celebration of Oct. 27. Yes, the Series had taken a day off between Games 6 and 7. Rain had interfered. A day off between Games 6 and 7 of the 2013 NBA finals was scheduled. Just as well because of fatigue.
The Sox said the day off would help them recover spiritually. After the Mets had won Game 7, Keith Hernandez said, "Once we won Game 6 the way we did, there was no way we'd lose Game 7."
Let's see what the James Gang has to say tonight.