Upon arriving in South Beach, "hero ball" was a concept that should have been considered foreign territory. With so many superstars in one lineup, there was no need.
Thus far, the Heat have secured one championship, to be exact. To go along with the one title, they're still playing for a second and have made three consecutive NBA Finals appearances. That's impressive, not to mention indicative of a superteam (not dynasty).
Their third playoff campaign has, at times, been more of a harbinger of doom than anything, though.
The Heat aren't where they are because of the Big Three. They're in the finals, facing the San Antonio Spurs, because of LeBron. His postseason averages of 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game on 51 percent shooting make him the second player in NBA history (other is Larry Bird) to sustain such marks through at least 10 playoff games in three separate seasons.
Pointing fingers at him is always easy. He's LeBron James, after all. But the issue hasn't been him, it's been his teammates, his fellow superstars more than anything.
Bosh and Wade are combining for 26.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game for the playoffs after combining for 37.8, 11.8 and 6.8, respectively, for the regular season. During the Eastern Conference Finals, James basically averaged more points (29) than Bosh and Wade combined (29.4).
In other words, he's been carrying the Heat on his own. And the time to start deferring isn't now.
James doesn't have to stop passing to take over. His court vision is part of his charm. It's what makes him who he is. But what happened in the fourth quarter of Game 1 against the Spurs can't happen again. Ever again.
That final period saw James attempt four shots, but the Heat were outscored 23-16 and lost. Though he dished out only one assist, he would have had at least half a dozen had his teammates been hitting their shots. Bosh and Wade combined to go just 1-of-7 from the floor in that fourth quarter, yet James kept relinquishing control of the ball.
With the game on the line and Miami's dynasty hopes waning in the balance, James needs to dominate. He needs to be the hero, to will himself to victory.
Every contest the Heat play moving forward has to emulate Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. You know the night I'm referring to. The one where the Heat came into Beantown behind 3-2 to the Boston Celtics, facing elimination.
The night when James took over.
James went for 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting from the floor, to go along with 15 rebounds and five assists. His team on the verge of submitting to an inferior opponent's will, he forced himself to be the hero. He went all Cleveland-Cavaliers-LeBron-James on the Celtics. And the Heat won.
That game receives far less recognition than Game 7 does, when Wade dropped 23 points and an injured Bosh went for 19 off the bench in a series-deciding Game 7. That was the story.
Without James taking control in Game 6, there was no Game 7.
"The Game 6 in Boston, I mean, that was LeBron James Show," Wade said, as quoted by the Associated Press via ESPN. "We did our job defensively, but we gave him the ball and got ... out of the way."
Getting out of James' way was what the Heat did in Game 6 against Boston, and it's what they have to do against San Antonio now.
To the Spurs' credit, they're not the Celtics. They're better. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich make up one of the most formidable quartets the NBA has ever seen. They also have something else Boston didn't—Kawhi Leonard.
Lost on nearly everyone outside of San Antonio is how vital Leonard is to the Spurs' survival. He can score, rebound and run the break as well as anyone on that team. He can also defend and frustrate James in ways he isn't accustomed to.
According to Alex Kennedy of USA Today, James shot just 2-of-8 from the field when he was being defended by Leonard in Game 1, and was 5-of-8 when it was anyone else. Leonard was simply splendid on the defensive end of the court, containing James off the dribble and, in certain instances, forcing the ball out of his hands.
Leonard's defense alone wasn't enough to silence James, though, something the latter himself even admits.
"I had some more opportunities where I could have maybe been a little more aggressive or look for my shot,” LeBron said of Game 1, according to Kurt Helin of NBC Sports.
James also went on to say that he doesn't regret any of the other plays, or the passes he made. And he shouldn't. Immersing himself in the past isn't going to help the Heat. However, once again playing the part of the hero will.
He has scored 30 or more points five times this postseason, and the Heat are 4-1. When he scores under 25 points, like he did in Game 1 of the finals, they're 5-3—significantly less impressive.
The Heat need him score, especially now. His two sidekicks have been alarmingly inconsistent. Relying on them to suddenly pick up their play and provide a semblance of the support they were once supposed to is wishful thinking.
Believing they're going to emerge from the depths of mediocrity is naive. They very well could, but that was also true against the Pacers. And look how that turned out. Miami barely escaped with a series victory.
Must LeBron take over the NBA Finals for the Heat to beat the Spurs?
For the duration of the finals, there is no dichotomy between being a team player and attempting to win on his own. Carrying the Heat, Bosh and Wade is him being a team player. When the alternative is him falling short of a second straight championship, taking absolute control is the most selfless of acts there is.
No one's tasking him with ignoring his teammates. They're simply imploring him to do what's right, to do what's best now.
“My guys are open," James asserted, per Helin. "I’ve got this far with them, I’m not going to just abandon what I’ve been doing all year to help us get to this point."
Only he might have to. If he wants Miami to go further than this point, he must shoulder the burden like only he can.
Like the Heat desperately need him to.