2011 NBA Finals: Would One Title Be Enough for the LeBron James and the Heat?
Last week I talked about how the Miami Heat would likely win the NBA Championship this year, as well as a few more down the road. And while I still feel that way, a more interesting question is posed if the Heat don't win multiple championships in the Big Three Era: Did they accomplish enough?
The answer to that question seems to unquestionably be "no," but it's tough to articulate the actual reasons I hold that belief.
Most of the hate for the Heat obviously stems from (possibly irrational) hatred of LeBron James, either for the decision to play in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh or The Decision, the hour-long special he used to announce his choice to the world. I believe the "hatred" comes from a feeling that LeBron upset the narrative that we have all become accustomed to seeing from superstars.
They must struggle through the early parts of their career to reach that elusive first championship, and overcome the very teams that stood in their way in the process.
Michael Jordan first had to conquer his playoff nemesis the Detroit Pistons before he could win the first of six NBA titles.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were together for three seasons before their first championship and had to beat the Kings, Suns and Trail Blazers to get there. Kobe struggled again for multiple seasons after the departure of Shaq and the arrival of Pau Gasol, but the Lakers went on to win two more championships.
Would one title be enough for the Miami Heat?
The fact that he decided to hitch his career to Dwyane Wade's wagon in Miami instead of taking his own team to the heights reached by other great players is a large part of what angers a lot of people. Still others are angered because he chose not to play in their city (most of them residing in Chicago, New York and New Jersey).
However, there are two sides to this debate, as the argument can be made that LeBron actually did the smartest thing for his legacy. Many argue that he tarnished it by not going about things the way those who came before him had. Everyone wants him to win championships before he can be considered in discussions about the greatest players of all time, so why shouldn't he take the most direct path to championships by signing on a team with two of the league's best players in Wade and Chris Bosh?
The way The Decision played out arguably engenders even more hatred for LeBron than the decision to play for the Heat. And this debate is much more one-sided. The one-hour special has routinely been criticized, and rightfully so. I couldn't believe what I was watching while I was watching it.
I kept yelling at Jim Gray to stop asking about nail biting and start asking questions that mattered. I kept waiting for LeBron to say something, ANYTHING about his time in Cleveland, his teammates there or the fans that supported him.
And then there was the celebration put on by the Heat in Miami that surfaced in the days after The Decision.
That celebration is the biggest reason why one title is simply not enough for these guys. When the best player on your team sits on what is basically a throne and declares that he's going to bring not one, not two, not six, not seven, etc. titles back to this city ... Well, he better deliver on that promise.
The celebration was so gaudy and so purposefully arrogant, as if to declare themselves champions before they had ever even stepped on the practice court together, that anything less than a dynasty has to be considered a failure.
The opportunity is certainly there for this team to go on a long-run reminiscent of the Bulls in the 1990s. They have arguably the league's best two players in LeBron and Wade, and the best third banana in the league is Chris Bosh. And with little other talent on the roster, they look as if they are poised to win a championship in their first year together.
They dispatched the two biggest Eastern Conference contenders with relative ease, dismissing both the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in five games. The other team modeling themselves after the Heat in terms of the way they will be structured, the New York Knicks, is really still one man short of a Big 3, as Chauncey Billups will probably not be back next season. And LeBron and Wade are both better players than Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, especially on the defensive side of the court.
Who is there out West that can rival the Heat in terms of sheer talent? Maybe the Los Angeles Lakers, but they are losing their Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson and are getting up there in age. The San Antonio Spurs run seems to have come to an end this year. The Oklahoma City Thunder proved in this year's Western Conference Finals that they are just not ready yet.
The team the Heat will see in the NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks, is built around a 33-year-old power forward (albeit an unstoppable one); but their starting point guard and orchestrator of their offense is 38 and is reportedly considering retirement after the season. This might be the Mavs' best and last chance for a Championship.
What's even scarier to think about is how much more confident this team will become if they do win the championship this year. Think about the weight that will be lifted off LeBron's back if he wins the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the first time. Think about all the deflated wishes of the Heat haters who have come out of the woodwork this year. And the vindication for the over-the-top celebration this superstar trio staged in July.
If they really are good enough to make good on their promise in their first season together, a season in which they initially struggled to find any cohesiveness, then there's no reason they shouldn't be able to do it again, multiple times. And it will be a disappointment if they don't live up to the hype: for the Heat fans, for Pat Riley as the architect of this Big Three and for each of the members of that trio individually, especially LeBron.
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