Robert Horry knows better than most what it takes to win a NBA Championship. Seven times, with three different teams, he came away with confetti falling onto his head and with a celebratory ring on order.
It’s hard work, he admits. But as the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs look ahead to tonight’s Game 3 (ESPN, 1.30am), the now-retired forward says both combatants need to look around and soak up the occasion before it disappears from view.
“That’s the fun part,” the 42-year-old declares. “Dealing with the pressure, playing great basketball and enjoying the moment. Because that moment doesn’t come a lot of times for many guys.
“You have to enjoy the Finals, take care of your body and cut out a lot of the noise. Friends calling you wanting tickets and most of all the media wanting everything. That comes with the NBA Finals but you have to learn to say: ‘I’m not going to do that.’”
With these Finals tied at 1-1, all is left to play for. “It is a chess match,” Horry observes. Those who were expecting the Heat to dominate were always destined to be proved wrong. San Antonio, with whom he won his final two championships in 2007, are just too smart to roll over and concede. And in Gregg Popovich, he adds, they have a coach who has adapted his own approach as the years have gone on.
Pop’s gone soft? Say it ain’t so. “He’s let the reins go a little bit,” Horry claims. “When I was there, he was strict. It took me a while to get used to the system because when you’re a basketball player, you just want to play basketball. And in certain situations, they were very robotic and a lot of people called them boring, doing the same things over and over. But Pop’s changed. He’s taken their athletic ability and let them go out and be who they are. He’s learned to adapt to a new age of basketball.”
But, he confirms, some key philosophies remain intact. “He understands that basketball teams are like a family. You’re going to have differences. You’re going to have arguments sometimes. But the key is to let it go and go back to being a family. You have coaches who hold a grudge but Pop will come and talk to you. That’s hard because players can be sensitive when they’re mad, whether it’s with a team-mate or coach. But Pop will come and say: ‘it’s ok.’”
Horry has performed under, undoubtedly, the two greatest coaches of his generation in Popovich and Phil Jackson, with whom who secured a hat-trick of titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. Each man has a contrasting style but perhaps more alike than many would expect. Both share the ability to grind out victory after victory.
So which, I ask, would be the first call Horry would make if he was choosing a playcaller?
“It depends on what team you have,” he says. “If you have a team full of talent. You might have a team that has a bunch of talents but doesn’t have the smarts, there’s not one coach that’s right for every situation. It’s hard to say.
“I’m not going to say Phil Jackson would be a better or Pops. You take Don Nelson. He’s raised some teams that weren’t supposed to be winners. There are so many great coaches out there and you can’t compare them because coaches are only as good as their players.”
Coach debate over. Player of the Era up next. Kobe or Duncan? “I’d look at it from a GM point of view,” Horry states. I’d say Kobe Bryant because Tim doesn’t put fans in the stands like Kobe does. They’re both elite athletes but Kobe’s sells more tickets.”
Yet he has all the admiration in the world for Duncan, his accomplice for five years with the Spurs who is still a pivotal figure in these Finals, even when confronted by those who were barely out of nursery when he first landed in the NBA.
“He’s done so much for that team and that city,” Horry adds. “He took less money to keep Tony and Manu. He’s taken less money to keep the core of those guys together. He’s been the mainstay of that organisation. You can’t find that nowadays because guys are so into ‘what can you do for me now?’ or ‘what can you pay me now?’ The guys realise his sacrifice and they don’t want to let him down.”
Horry, who now does broadcasting work for the Lakers, will watch Game 3 from this side of the Atlantic during a goodwill tour of coaching clinics and television appearances.
He has the rings secured away. And Big Shot Rob can now look back with satisfaction on the big shots he made in Conference Finals and NBA Finals in Houston, San Antonio, LA and elsewhere.
Two, he admits, stand above the illustrious fray. “1995 was special because we (Houston) were a sixth seed and we had to overcome so much, not having homecourt advantage, getting past some great Hall of Famers in that run, from John Stockton and Karl Malone in Utah, to David Robinson and Dennis Rodman in San Antonio, to Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson in Phoenix, and then sweeping Shaq and Penny and Orlando in the Finals. That run was great.
“And then in 2001 with the Lakers was a great run. We only lost one game and I’ve never been upset at losing a single game as I was after that one against Philly because I knew we had the ability to go perfect. And we didn’t. But those two teams were really impressive.”
Miami and San Antonio, 2013 editions, can dream of equalling their prime in the days to come.
Watch the San Antonio Spurs face the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals live tonight on ESPN HD, NBA League pass and Sky Sports. Tip-off at 2am BST
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