Tuesday, June 19, 2012
A Date With A Self-Created Destiny
LeBron was my favorite player in the league to love a few years ago. He was the guy who I remember thinking could end up being greater than Michael Jordan. Could end up overpowering anybody who'd ever play the game of basketball. He turned into more or less my favorite player in the league to hate, in large part due to his "Decision, but mainly because I believed that we set a standard upon him that he couldnt reach. A check that he couldn't cash. And it only made things worse that he time after time made decisions that left us saying "well Jordan would never have done THAT." It's unfair, and in a way it causes us to deprecate just exactly what LeBron and his Heat-les have done this entire season.
Last season the Heat's potential flaws were layed out: "would James & Wade be able to mesh successfully?", "would they get any contributions from their 4-8 guys, their secondary role players?", would LeBron and Wade end their evident power struggle from a team leadership standpoint?", and of course "would their semi-dissheveled team resemble anything like a championship caliber team and realize their potential?". Well...at the end of the 2011 NBA season all these questions remained. The Heat were thoroughly outplayed the last 3 games of the Mavericks series, both LeBron and Wade failed to take their team to the necessary next level. They got no contributions from their role players and Chris Bosh seemed lost from an offensive positioning and defensive role standpoint. They made minimal changes in the offseason and it even looked like they'd be just regrouping the exact same squad to make another go at it unchanged. Seemed great in theory, but that's the reason pundits weren't picking this team to win the title come playoff time. At the beginning of the Conference Finals, the general narrative was that whoever survived between San Antonio and Oklahoma City would handle the Heat, with relative ease. And I believed that as well whole-heartedly, I even picked the Spurs to beat the Thunder and then when that failed I picked the Thunder to outlast the Heat. And that's not a diss to the Heat at all! *grasping for straws* This team held the most variables of any group that I can remember. They repeatedly took their foot off the gas pedal during the regular season and playoffs, but at the same time they were never complacent enough to lose footing or fall off entirely. This season, they displayed a resiliency and togetherness that wasn't there last season. And believe it or not, the only times that it was "there" were with every NBA Championship-caliber team in NBA history.
No team runs into a national title (I refuse to call it a World Championship...it's the freaking National Basketball Association. College Basketball got it right). Every NBA season is a testament to the old saying, "you must first fail, in order to eventually succeed". This Miami team in the last two seasons has faced the most pressure and scrutiny of any professional sports team ever, they've lost in the Finals and faced "can this team even win as currently constructed?" chatter, they've faced critical/elimination games against the Pacers and the Celtics, they've been buried and consequently unearthed, they've played the role of villains, underdogs, overwhelming favorites and underachieving juggernauts. And over that amount of time they've (seemingly) finally evolved into the type of team that people envisioned they'd become in order to win titles. The only way, that this team could win titles. LeBron as the alpha dog, D-Wade as 2nd banana/veteran/savvy "step-in" superstar (who's playing hurt this postseason by the way), Chris Bosh as hustle-rebounder and floor spreader who's able to take advantage of mismatches in the low block, Mario Chalmers as their irrational confidence scorer, and Shane Battier, James Jones, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and sometimes Norris Cole as their three-point shooters, key role players and hustle guys. They finally resemble the 8-man teams that win championships, not the 3-man teams that hold corny free agent parades and self-indulge themselves right out of America's hearts (My baby's all grown up! My baby's all grown up!)
When I picked the Thunder to win the series I wasn't banking on this to happen. I wasn't banking on LeBron James shrugging off the ghosts from Finals pasts and actually being relatively clutch this series and creating moments that'll live on in highlight reels for years to come. I wasn't banking on Chris Bosh suddenly rising out the coffin and growing balls in the process. I wasn't banking on James Harden to be this much of a non-factor, nor was I banking on the flaws of the OKC Thunder being exposed this drastically by the Miami Heat. The Oklahoma City Thunder are probably going to lose this series, in fact they probably will lose in 5. And the reasons/scapegoats are going to be picked apart. Russell Westbrook didn't get the ball to Durant enough, Harden "no-showed", the Thunder's lack of floor spreaders came back to haunt them big time (totally a legit reason by the way), Derek Fisher thought that this was 2002 instead of 2012, or even Scott Brooks losing the battle of "deer-in-the-headlights coaches" to Spoelstra. Just know that the Thunder's best chance to make this a competetive series came and went in game 4. And that the Thunder lost because LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were right. They didn't do it in the fashion they thought they were going to, but they did it.
Boy is it going to be weird seeing LeBron hoist the trophy.