I wasn’t ready to jump on the Miami bandwagon. I didn’t want this. Not yet. Not this soon. When we found out the Miami Heat were crying in the locker room after a regular season loss, there was a part of me that was happy. Not because we could make fun of them — I’m a crier myself, so tears are cool with me — but because it was supposed to mean that they didn’t have it figured out yet.
We knew that the Heat are going to win and win a lot, but they’re three wins away from the title in their first season together. After flipping the NBA upside down in a single offseason, I wanted them to need more time to learn how to play together. More time to learn how to be great. I wanted Derrick Rose and and Tom Thibodeau to prove that humble but hardworking triumphs. I wanted the hometown kid who was still repping his hometown to win out.
Today, I don’t know who I’m rooting for anymore. I don’t know what I want. In the course of one game — one half is probably a more accurate description — I went from desperately wanting Dirk Nowitzki to get another step closer in his quest for a ring, to smiling, laughing and shaking my head in amusement as I watched the show that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade gave their home crowd.
Prior to the tip off of Game 1, it felt as though everyone had been resigned to the fact that the Heat were going to win the championship. Like me, most of those people were hoping they would be wrong and that the Mavs would prevail. Now? I’m not sure. I’ve spoken to a few people who experienced the same quiet, but bold shift that I did last night. It’s pretty simple, really.
How can you argue against LeBron James when he’s been the best basketball player in the playoffs? You can love him, hate him, argue against his loyalty, question his legacy and absolutely despise his arrogance and comfort level now that he’s in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at his sides. That doesn’t matter. If you’re a fan of basketball, you can’t hate LeBron’s game. You just can’t. You don’t have to like the player, but you can’t hate his game. Those three-pointers to finish the third quarter, the dunk that was directed at every single one of us who doubted, the defense that finally has LeBron playing like the player we all wanted him to be?
It’s glorious. No hyperbole. I mean that. It sounds crazy when I was so against the Heat starting their reign this season, but dammit, they are that good. And they should be. This isn’t about their “big five” and the two starters who barely combine to average a handful of points per game. It’s not about their bench or the horrendous showing from Mike Bibby in this postseason. It’s not about Juwan Howard or James Jones or Eddie House either. This is about LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
They wanted this and they got it. They got the pressure, the hate and the hype.
LeBron broke Cleveland’s heart when he made the ill-advised decision to do “The Decision.” As a result, he’s spent the duration of this season being thrown under the bus by fans and media alike. Deservedly or not, despite the drama, he’s got his first Finals victory down and stands three wins away from hoisting the trophy. He’s been the best basketball player on the planet for a while, simultaneously silencing his critics and making Scottie Pippen swoon.
While there were times when LeBron made it easy to root for his opponent, it’s always been easy to root for Dwyane Wade. A low-key superstar without a ton of handlers and with time to talk every time he’s ever come through town, Wade is on that list of guys who are a million times more impressive to watch up-close in person than on television. Seeing him standing in the centre of the Heat’s pre-game huddle last night, hearing him imploring his guys to give their all — “Don’t say I wish I woulda!” — all of the memories of Wade as one of the good guys came flooding back.
Speaking of good guys, to me, Chris Bosh can’t ever be thought of as anything else. Covering Chris for two seasons here in Toronto, there are not many bad things to say about him. He’s thoughtful and professional. He shows up. To consider him as a bad guy is laughable. After failing to make it out of the first round with the Raptors, Chris recognized that he wasn’t going to be able to lead a team to a championship in Toronto and he made the decision to align himself with the best to get to the top. Not many can argue with that decision on the morning after he posted 19 and nine in his first-ever Finals game, turning the “third-wheel” descriptor into a pretty good thing.
Regardless of what we want and despite what we think, each of the Big Three is exactly where he had hoped to be. Legacies and egos be damned, they’re three wins away from being champions. They did it differently and they’ve owned their choices with an awareness that we may not ever fully understand because we’re not the ones with the options, talent and pressures that they have had as NBA superstars. If this were a choose-your-own-adventure novel, you better believe I would have chosen a different path, but that’s the beauty in this whole situation: This twisting, turning action-packed thriller isn’t our story. It’s theirs.