In a titanic showdown between Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in AmericanAirlines Arena, D-Wade and the Heat fell just short of James and the Cavs, losing a heartbreaker at home 111-104; which brings me to the subject of winning.
Vince Lombardi, the head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1959-67, has probably been quoted about “winning” more than any human being in the history of sports.
With good reason, too, since he ended his career with a 105-35-6 record, never suffered a losing season, had a 9-1 postseason record, and led the Packers to a still-unmatched three consecutive NFL championships in 1965, 1966, and 1967; including two Super Bowl titles those last two years.
One of his most memorable quotes on the subject is, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
That quote probably isn’t how Lombardi truly viewed the subject, but it’s what he’s most famous for saying. Another one that’s nearly as memorable is, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
I’ve always loved that one personally. Yet, there’s a third that is really relevant to this piece, and to how I’m feeling this morning. He once said, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.”
And that’s it in a nutshell. Just about every single night in every single NBA arena there are teams playing around this country, and not a single one of them is going to finish the season with an unblemished record. Hasn’t happened, and likely never will.
My beloved Miami Dolphins achieved the feat in football, but football is a game where they only play 16 regular season games (and only 14 during the season my 'Phins went undefeated, although they also won two playoff games and the Super Bowl to go 17-0). In basketball, as in hockey, the season is an 82-game grind, where each game is important, but hardly to the degree a football game on Sunday is.
Yet, that doesn’t mean any player, coach, or team should ever take any game lightly, or think that a loss here or there is fine and dandy. No, every loss should trouble them mightily. Every single minute they’re not dominating their opponent should strike a chord within their soul.
For if they’re not there to win, they should forever step off the court.
Miami lost a game last night; but there’s no doubt in my mind every single player on the Heat team stepped out on that court with an unmitigated desire to win. They had a fire in their eyes, and they were determined to do everything they could to come out of the contest victorious.
It was clearly seen in the thunderous dunk D-Wade delivered over Anderson Varejao in the first-quarter. It was evidenced by how hard Jermaine O’Neal played against the other O’Neal, Shaq Diesel. It was testified to by the season-high 24 points Michael Beasley put up, and it was seen in the tenacious play of Udonis Haslem, who fell just short of notching another double-double with nine points and eight rebounds.
Miami wanted to win, but just fell short.
Dwyane Wade even outscored his good friend, LeBron James, putting up 36 points in the contest on 9-of-21 shooting (15-of-21 from the FT-line), including 3-of-6 from downtown to go along with four rebounds, five assists, and two blocked shots. Bron Bron finished the night with 34 points on 8-of-20 shooting (16-of-18 from the FT-line), and 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, along with four rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and a block.
Both players and their respective teams wanted to win this game. Both players and their respective teams did their best to try and assure that victory, but only one came out on top; as it always is. There are no ties in basketball; never have been, and never will. Someone wins and someone loses.
There’s no real shame in that, either, unless the players on one of the teams simply don’t have that will to win Lombardi talked about. There are many franchises throughout the league with rosters filled with just those kind of players. They’re collecting a paycheck, and nothing more. To them, winning isn’t everything.
Not on either team last night.
So, despite the fact Miami fell short and suffered their second defeat of the season, they are not losers; they are still winners. They never quit, and that’s all that matters.
Did they fall short last night? Absolutely. Did they play defense as intently as they had in their first seven games? Not really. In fact, they played defense for some parts of this game nearly as badly as they did in the fourth quarter of the Phoenix Suns game.
Yet, there were also moments in the game where they ratcheted up the intensity, which gives any Heat fan hope that the next game against the winless New Jersey Nets will see the Heat return to their staunch defensive ways and hold the Nets down and get a win.
The first showdown with the Cavs is over, and Cleveland won this one. They wanted it and they got it, but don’t confuse the Heat with losers. Losers are teams like the Clippers and Golden State Warriors, who find a number of ways to destroy their fans’ hopes every year.
Miami is on a mission this year to play good ball. Whether they’ll hang with the elite squads in the Eastern Conference all year is a question yet to be answered. It will depend on whether we can continue to count on Beasley to consistently do what he did last night; score 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting (4-of-4 from the FT-line), including 2-of-5 from three-point land to go along with his six rebounds.
If he can do that on a consistent basis, and if we can continue to get contributions from the rest of the team, especially defensively, Miami will be just fine. One loss won’t define this team, and anyone who thinks it will is deluding themselves.
The Miami Heat don’t face the Cleveland Cavaliers again until Jan. 25 of next year. That game will also be in AmericanAirlines Arena, and strangely enough, the only other game between the Heat and the Cavs will be a little over a week-and-a-half later on Feb. 4 in Cleveland.
So, Miami can redeem itself in a little over two months from now by beating the Cavs. I am confident they will. Till then, they’ll have to settle for beating up other teams to prove they’re winners. That will start tomorrow night against the hapless Nets, who I’m confident the Heat will destroy.
Wade and Miami are winners, precisely because they want to win.