There’s a lot of credit to go around for the Miami Heat’s NBA championship run this year.
There were the timely, essential contributions from the roll players, particularly Shane Battier’s three-point shooting in games one and two against the Oklahoma City Thunder and his defense throughout the series, Mario “Effing!” Chalmers’ brash 25 points in Game 3, Mike “Old Man” Miller’s gutsy 23-points-on-seven-threes performance in the Game 5 clincher, and rookie/Haircut MVP Norris Cole’s game-changing eight points in less than three minutes when the Heat were struggling in the first half of Game 4. And don’t forget co-captain Udonis Haslem, who may not have filled up the box score during these playoffs but whose dedication to his team — in the form of a pay cut that cleared the way for LeBron James and Chris Bosh to come to Miami two years ago and, on the court, in the form of crucial hustle plays — embodies the identity of the Miami Heat.
There was, of course, Dwyane Wade, the best Miami Heat player of all time, a superstar who has twice (in 2006 and, yes, 2011) played well enough on the biggest stage to warrant Finals MVP status and who this year, with hobbled knees, humbly deferred to a better player for the good of his team and still managed to play big when it counted most. Speaking of big, Wade, the third shortest man on the Heat at 6’4″, led the team in blocks in the postseason.
Speaking again of big, there was Chris Bosh, who overcame a nagging abdominal strain (suffered while dunking on the Indiana Pacers’ Roy Hibbert) and his initial discomfort at the center position (he’s a natural power forward) to log a second-straight solid showing in the playoffs, including a 24-point, seven-rebound outing to help the Heat beat the Thunder in Game 5 of the Finals.
There was Coach Eric Spoelstra, who withstood intense pressure, constant media speculation about his job security, and a tongue-lashing from a frustrated, out-of-line D-Wade to instill his team with the “grind it out” mentality it needed to bring home the trophy.
There was, as always, the imposing, reassuring presence of Pat Riley.
Above all there was LeBron James, who, to be sure, is not a perfect person but who played as close to perfect basketball during these playoffs as it is possible to play, right down to his triple-double in the Game 5 clincher against OKC. In the Finals he lead his team in points (28.2), rebounds (10.2), and assists (7.4), something only Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan have done before. He performed spectacularly in big moments (his 45-point Game 6 performance against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals was a masterpiece). He consistently lead the Heat — now, his Heat — out of tough spots in three consecutive series in which the team trailed (no team has ever survived being down in three series to win the NBA Finals). He again and again accepted the challenge of intimidating defensive assignments, including Kevin Durant, whose indisputable brilliance James managed to contain in the last four games of the Finals. And he set a league record by logging at least 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists in 13 different games.
In short, LeBron did everything. He did everything to win a championship for Miami, for D-Wade (who, frankly, he failed in last year’s Finals), and for himself.
“It’s about damn time,” James said as the confetti was falling on his head after Thursday night’s Game 5 victory. In the self-deprecating remark of relief I sense a man liberated from a huge burden, a burden that was absurd considering how insignificantly sports figure in the grand scheme of things but a real burden nonetheless. And here’s the exciting part: If what we saw this season was a LeBron James playing with a gorilla on his back, can you imagine how damn good a liberated LeBron James can play? Neither can I, but it’s very, very exciting.
But let’s not look ahead just yet, especially since we know an NBA Championship — not seven, not six, not five, but just one — is hard to come by. This playoff run ran Miami Heat fans through the wringer, and it’s time to enjoy the sweet taste of victory. See y’all at the parade.