Last July the Miami Heat secured the 2011 NBA championship by luring superstar LeBron James away from Cleveland. LeBron joined Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to form the Heat’s three-headed monster of talent, a triumvirate that would best the rest of the NBA for years to come. James’ predictions of success were, understandably, bold, with LeBron forecasting “Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven titles.”Perhaps he should have said “not one.”A funny thing happened to the Heat on the way to the NBA throne room. The veteran, hungry, determined Dallas Mavericks took the championship away from Miami. And the Mavs did it the same way they dispatched the Thunder in the Western Conference finals, with stifling defense, timely shooting and not an ounce of quit. For series MVP Dirk Nowitski it was vindication, as he has shed the mantle of “one of the best players never to have won a ring.”For LeBron haters, the finals’ outcome likewise provides some vindication, as James cements his position as “one of the best players never to have won a ring.”It also has to give Cleveland fans a warm, fuzzy feeling, since King James left his hometown for South Beach because “I want to win championships.”The Mavs’ win shows just how hard it is to win a championship in any sport, but particularly in the NBA. After an 82-game regular season you must go through four playoff rounds. Have a couple of bad nights in any of those series and you find yourself packing up for summer vacation. It also proves great teams are great because everyone plays together, everyone plays their role and everyone is working for the same goal. The Dallas Mavericks were not the most talented group of individuals in this series, simply the best and most cohesive team.Which brings us now to the off-season, which could, in itself, be a bit of a long, strange trip. If you like the current NFL lockout you will love the NBA off-season.The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expires June 30. Without a new deal the owners will lock the players out, and the two sides are about as far apart right now as Dallas and Miami, the cities, not the teams.The owners want shorter contracts and less guaranteed player salaries. They also want to revamp the salary cap. In other words, they want a bigger piece of the pie. Of course, this comes on the heels of increased TV ratings and increased interest in the NBA. So why not shut the doors, shut out the fans and put a noose around the golden goose’s neck? Where Mavs’ fans could spend the off-season dreaming of a repeat, Heat fans could lick their wounds and dream of redemption and Thunder fans could ponder their team taking the next step and reaching the NBA finals next season, the looming lockout puts a lid on all that. After the June 23 NBA draft, the league will be on hold until some sort of agreement is reached. The looming lockout already has caused cancellation of the summer leagues in Las Vegas and Orlando, hampering the development of young players. The possibility the lockout could delay the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season will have a chilling effect on ticket sales, not to mention the sales of league merchandise, which will cost the owners, who are already pleading poverty, even more cash. Hang in there, Thunder fans. The young, talented and now a year older and wiser OKC squad will be among the pre-season favorites to contend for next season’s NBA championship, presuming there is a next season, that is.