Challenges of winning an NBA title -- and defending it
Robert Horry is one of only nine players in NBA history with seven championships, winning two straight with the Rockets (1994 and '95), three in a row with the Lakers (2000, '01 and '02) and two more with the Spurs ('05 and '07) during a 16-year career that ended in 2008. Regarded for his clutch shooting, Big Shot Rob has unique insight into what it takes to win a ring. Horry, now 43 and an analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, shares with SI.com the difficulties of winning a title and the challenges of defending it.
You want to know what's the most addicting thing in the world? Championships. Winning a title is a feeling unlike any other. You don't want anyone to take that baby away from you. When you're defending a title and someone is trying to take it from you, it almost feels like a home invasion. They are trying to steal your valuables -- your trophy! -- and you can't let them.
People ask me all the time about the hardest part of defending a title or pulling off a three-peat. The truth? It's the hatred. People start hating you because you are winning constantly. Everyone in the league is doing what they can to knock you off that throne and you're going to get their best every night. If you beat a team in the playoffs, it is going to come back with a new animosity against you that next year. Everyone wants revenge.
Another thing that tends to get overlooked is health. Being healthy at the right time of the year is huge. Consider how Gregg Popovich manages the Spurs' minutes. San Antonio's stars have a lot of miles on them, and you have to factor in rest when making a title run. The Heat have been fortunate the past couple of years. They've had a few dings here and there, like when Chris Bosh missed nine games with an abdominal injury during the 2012 playoffs, but for the most part they've had their main players together for their back-to-back championships and the run to this year's Finals. Those injuries can take a major toll on a team. Look at Serge Ibaka and the Thunder -- they were a different team without him early in the Western Conference finals against San Antonio. If he hadn't gotten hurt at the wrong time of the year, maybe Oklahoma City would be in the Finals.
I was almost 24 when I won my first title, with Houston. I thought it would be a cakewalk to win another the next season, but that wasn't the case. We were facing teams with great players who had been working toward winning a title their entire careers. In '95, we won a winner-take-all Game 5 in the first round against John Stockton, Karl Malone and the Jazz. In the second round, we lost the first two games to Charles Barkley and the Suns before rallying to win in seven. I learned from that season that nothing comes easy in this league, even for the reigning champions.[video:]
It's so important to have the right mind-set in the postseason. If you're not playing basketball, you need to be off your feet chilling at home. I see and hear about players partying during the playoffs. Are you kidding me? You need to cut everything out of your life besides basketball and focus on the one goal of winning a championship.
One reason why the Lakers were able to three-peat from 2000-02 is because we were always adding fresh pieces. One year we brought in A.C. Green, the next Horace Grant, then Samaki Walker. We always had veterans who were hungry to win. For the 2002-03 season, though, we stayed put. There were no driven newcomers to push us. We got too comfortable. Shaq waited until late in the offseason to have toe surgery, and people lost sight of how hard it is to stay on top. We forgot what it took to win the first three, and we lost in the second round to San Antonio.
The three-peat was almost detrimental to us because it inflates your ego and you start thinking that you're the man. Meanwhile, your rivals are building up hatred toward you and are champing at the bit to knock you off. You have to tell yourself that you haven't won anything. Don't wear your rings around; act like you're still chasing your first title.
That's how the Spurs play. They are a different beast. All they care about is going out and performing well. Look at San Antonio's roster -- it's made up of blue-collar guys. You don't see them in commercials or getting into Twitter wars. You see them playing hard, respecting their opponents and playing the game the right way. I call the Spurs the stealth bombers. You don't even know they're there until it's too late.
As for Miami, I'm not sure it would have beaten the Pacers if Lance Stephenson hadn't opened his mouth and started talking trash. The Heat really needed that extra motivation to knock off Indiana again -- and I don't think they would have made it to their fourth consecutive Finals without it.
It sounds cliché, but to win a championship, you have to give everything you've got. To defend a title or repeat, you have to give even more. When you have a shot at that trophy, you have to have absolutely no regrets. You never know when you're going to get another chance.
Opportunities like that don't come around very often -- unless you're me.
As told to Matt Dollinger of SI.com.