The implications of that June 13, 2006, night in Miami are much clearer and more meaningful now than the one-year benchmark, and it was historic in the first place: the Heat, already trailing 2-0 in the Finals, came from 13 points down with 6:34 remaining in the final quarter to beat the Mavericks 98-96 in the moment that will forever be remembered as the start of the rally all the way to the title.
But it took the past four months of 2008 to give Game 3 a new perspective and important historical context.
It's better than Miami originally thought and worse than the Dallas originally endured. No surprise. The only unimaginable notion for the Mavericks is that two years ago tonight may not have been the bottom - that indignity was possibly saved for the '07 first-round face plant against the Warriors. (The Finals is the ultimate in importance and so it should be the ultimate in high and lows, but ask people in 10 years about the classic Mavs collapse and most will probably recall the Golden State series first.)
There is no debate, though, that Game 3 in 2006 was the jump-start to the history changing, careers changing and, most of all, reputations changing.
Without title: Fading coaching superstar hanging on too long.
With title: Still great, to the end.
Riley will forever be mocked for kicking himself upstairs when the Heat got bad, returning to the sidelines when Miami got Shaquille O'Neal and turned into something special and then leaving again after this season as the Heat got really bad, but it's 2007-08 that showed the importance of the championship. Riley put the title team together as president and coached it through challenges, as it turned out a tremendous value to his image. He would look a lot different now if the most recent championship had been in 1988 and had never delivered the big prize to Miami.
Without title: The face of the underachieving Mavericks.
With title: Probably still employed, for one thing.
If Johnson had the championship on his coaching resume, he would have banked a lot more credibility and could have dismissed the upset to the Warriors as a blip. Instead, it became a pattern. And if the Mavericks had held tough against Miami, they might have built a level of confidence and calm that would never have let Golden State '07 happen. As it turned out, they squandered in 2006 and played as the challenger rather than heavy favorite a year later (Johnson changing his lineup before Game 1 to match up with Don Nelson, rather than the other way around), and lost in the first round again in 2008 in the final moment of his Dallas coaching career.
*The Shaquille O'Neal trade
Without title: Fool's errand that delivered ticket sales and publicity but never the title Shaq had promised upon arrival.
With title: Worth it.
The Heat acquired O'Neal from the Lakers in July 2004 and traded him to the Suns in February 2008. In between, there were his predictable losing battles with conditioning and complaints about not getting the ball enough, but one title in three full seasons is a good return on the investment. That Miami got away from Shaq before his salary became impossible to trade, and picked up Shawn Marion in the process, makes the original acquisition all the better.
Without title: The best player on a real bad team.
With title: Superstar.
It doesn't take winning a championship to reach that lofty status - LeBron James is a superstar, Kevin Garnett had been a superstar before this season. But the 2006 playoffs, and the Finals in particular, put Wade in a special class he would not yet have attained without the title. Not merely ascending to become the best player on the best team, he gained a mainstream, commercial popularity that has yet to dim.