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Where the 15 Minutes of Fame Never End
For all of the talent on Miami’s roster, there seems to be one key element lacking that all championship caliber teams have possessed, especially those with the hardware to prove their basketball mettle: maturity. Other than LeBron, is there anybody in the NBA with a more maddening combination of skill and self-congradulatory hubris? It has been said that ‘pride goeth before the fall’. Miami’s post season success and eventual decline is a clear illustration of snobbery indeed going before the proverbial stumble.
It all started with the overblown pageantry that was the introduction of Miami’s ‘Other Three’ (Thanks to Mike Gorman of Celtic’s play-by-play fame for that moniker) to the rest of the basketball universe. Upon a strobe-lit, smoking stage in American Airlines Arena in Miami stood LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, whooping and gesticulaing wildly while bass heavy music pulsated all around them, as if they had just won the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy itself. The two new acquisitions and the superstar mainstay crouched to audience-member-level and ran up and down the stage’s promontory high-fiving the outstretched hands of a frenzied crowd, all three smiling and no doubt feeling great about all of the attention and confetti being rained earthward upon them.
This smoke-show came well after Jame’s much lambasted “Decision”, a 75 minute exposition on unchecked arrogance that everybody should have expected from the famously vainglorious James, who brought not just his considerable talents, but horrible attitude to South Beach. Predicting prematurely that the newly helmed Miami heat would win ‘not one, not two, not three, not four’ titles seemed a tad presumptous at the time, but now, with Dallas hoisting the trophy skyward surrounded by quickly emptying seats at the other American Airlines Arena, that proclimation seems outright ridiculous.
Post-game, during the well-earned Dallas victory celebration, key members of the Heat’s starting five could be seen walking through the exits and into their locker room, the gloom and defeat hanging over their heads so palpable one would expect to see storm clouds pouring black rain upon the broad beaten shoulders of Miami’s Other Three. Chris Bosh could be seen openly weeping, a pitiful sight for any man, never mind one pushing seven feet and 240 lbs, while his teammates attempted to block the display of raw emotion by positioning their bodies in front of the camera. Perhaps Bosh had reason for the sudden outpouring of emotion. This, after all, was Chris’s first trip to the Finals after languishing for years in the cold unforgiving suburbs of Toronto, where he was on a statistical treadmill: putting up great numbers but while doing so achieving nothing. A couple of trips to the the playoffs and subsequent early exits aside, his tenure in the great white north was not a successful bid. Quite believeably, though, throughout the unmitigated bombast of the much-villified Heat’s up and down season, Bosh was able to remain the most humble of the new acquisitions. Clearly he was elated to join such illustrious basketball talent as James and Wade, but was mellow enough to escape entrapment within the pompous web LeBron had singlehandedly spun. Of the Other Three, Bosh was the one player not effected by Jame’s immaturity, whether it be on of off the court. Wade, on the other hand, has not been so lucky.
Playing alongside LeBron James for 90 or so games can definitely bring about some unwanted psychological changes in the way one precieves the game of basketball. It is clear that Wade’s game has suffered the most after hopping aboard LeBron’s self-important locomotive as it continues to barrel full speed ahread into the uncharted (for James, at least) municipality of I-Told-You-So. With LebBron attempting to dominate the last few minutes of a close game that’s to be decided by 5 points of less, otherwise known as crunch time, Wade’s abilities as a closer continue to gather rust. Once possessing supreme basketball acumen in clutch situations, Wade finds himself repeatedly defering to James in situations where he alone should have the ball. Jame’s size and speed allows him to do whatever it is that pleases him when the ball is his, as does a defender’s unwillingess to get in his way. He could open up several successful travel agencies with all of the steps he takes on the way to the basket. He should be the proprietor of multiple awards for best actor in a television drama series with all of the incredulous looks he shoots at referees after what he believes is a questionable call. Wade seems to be absorbing this infantile behavior, because he too is now asking for the foul on every drive, focusing on running his mouth at a ref instead of running back and playing the ruthless defense for which he’s been known. Wade possesed (and maybe, just maybe, still does) a dagger midrange jumper and superhuman lateral quickness, two attributes he has currenly given up on using by passing the ball to someone who dreams of one day acquiring a skill set like Wade’s. Wade has proven to be a reliable first option during nailbiters, and was almost certainly the exclusive go-to guy when his singular brilliance was needed pre-LeBron.
One might recall a Finals series in 2006 when Wade did his best Michael Jordan impression, dominating non-stop on both ends of the floor for three games to win the title, utilizing everything in his arsenal to overtake a good Mavericks team. It is clear that Wade has the better offensive skill set, yet repeatedly gives up great open looks or opportunities to exploit a weak defender and drive to the basket to draw a foul so LeBron can display a horrendous line-drive midrange jumper that is more Randy Johnson than Michael Jordan. During the 2011 Finals James morphed into a 6′-8” 250 pound point guard, shedding his aggresive exoskeleton, opting to pass first and ask questions later instead of lowering his shoulder like a linebacker and using his body as a human battering ram to bludgeon opponents on his way to an easy foul. This should be alarming to Heat fans but no surprise to outside observers of the game. James is aware of his inability to close a game, almost too aware, and what is precieved and praised as unerring unselfishness to everybody else is actually Jame’s way of slyly covering up the fact that he cannot, for the life of him, drive the final nail into the coffin. Adopting a pass first mentality, in LeBron’s case, is a testament to his monumental failure as a model for humility. In any other case (see Magic Johnson, John Stockton, or Isiah Thomas) deciding to make the pass first rather than take the shot would be seen as an admirable quality in a player. In LeBron’s case, it allows him to escape the media’s ire. If LeBron makes a great pass on a game winning play, the praise is never heaped upon the individual lucky enough to make the shot, but instead given to ‘Bron himself, more than happy to lap up the accolades. If the great pass is made and the shot doesn’t fall, it isn’t James’ questionable desicion-making being scrutinized, but the shooter’s inability to make the shot. The Finals-watching nation has seen this happen on more than one occasion during muliple games, and sometimes, during the same game.
The Heat hoped to follow in the Celtic’s footsteps by copying their blueprint for a championship schematic-by-schematic. It worked for the Celtics thanks to instant and sustainable chemistry that saw all three players shed both ego and elements of their respective games to conglomerate into a basketball juggernaut. The Heat’s insta-team failed because ego-shedding and game re-shaping has not happened yet. Perhaps it will, in time, but until someone sticks a hat pin into the hot-air baloon that is LeBron’s gargantuan ego, the team will continue to suffer, as will Miami’s hope of winning a title.