Congratulations, Miami Heat!
Thank you, Miami Heat.
This might just be the beginning of something great. But before we delve into what happens next, before we talk about salary caps and luxury tax consequences and free agency and draft prospects, let’s take a moment to reflect on what has just taken place.
You showed poise against a hating world. And in doing so, you proved everyone wrong.
Thank you for not letting the haters beat you down.
Remember how the critics called Wade’s brainchild and Pat Riley’s free-agent coup a colossal failure? How they said the only way the Big Three could win is if there were three balls? That three NBA superstars couldn’t possibly share the limelight?
Remember Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock summing up after last year’s Finals loss, “The Big Three is done. It was a noble experiment. James and Wade deserve credit for trying to make it work, for being completely loyal to and unselfish with each other for an entire season. Now it’s time to move on before they inflict further damage on their reputations.”
Well, they were all wrong.
Remember how you were vilified for having no heart? No will to win? No guts to rise above adversity? Remember how everyone left you for dead after you trailed 2-1 to the Pacers, 3-2 to the Celtics, 1-0 to the Thunder?
Well, you went 9-0 after trailing at any point during a playoff series this postseason. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Remember all the James bashing?
Remember all the knocks against you for your three MVP awards but no titles? Remember all the snide comments about how nobody has ever won three such awards without eventually grabbing a ring?
Well, now you have one.
Remember when people were saying that you shrank from the big moment? That you were a first three quarters player, but not a fourth quarter player? That you were a first three rounds player, but not a Finals player?
Well, you just finished off your masterpiece. You just produced among the best performances off all time on the game’s biggest stage. You attacked the rim with equal parts grace and ferocity, passed with precision, rebounded with vigor, and – despite Serge Ibaka’s ridiculous assertion that you are “not a good defender” – shut down the game’s best scorer in Kevin Durant when it mattered most. You hit a virtual game-winning three-pointer on one leg. You had your first triple double of the season in the most important game you will ever play. You guarded every position on the floor – 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. You were, in a word, unstoppable.
Remember the suggestions that if the Thunder defeated your Heat – something they were highly favored to do – that Kevin Durant would somehow become a better basketball player than you?
Well, I guess that’s all cleared up.
You managed to raise the level of your game from its already impossibly high standard while at the same time expose the weaknesses in that of your fiercest competitor. That not only makes you better, but one of the best ever.
You’re certainly the most versatile ever. In the Finals alone, you brought the ball up and ran the offense like a point guard. You nailed big-time 3-pointers like a shooting guard. You took your man off the dribble like a small forward. You lived in the paint, posted up, set screens and rolled to the rim for buckets like a power forward. And you voluntarily defended Perkins on the block like a center.
But your ridicule didn’t stand alone.
Remember all the Bosh bashing?
Remember all the pundits saying that the former Toronto Raptors star would simmer and then boil over at suddenly being a third wheel? Remember them saying that you’re too soft? That you’re the half of Two and a Half Men?
Well, the team started to rely upon you and you stepped up in a big way.
When Wade went down for most of January, you killed it – shooting 59.1% from the floor, averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. When Shaquille O’Neal counted you out for the rest of the playoffs after your abdominal strain, you came back more determined than ever. You exhilarated with your Game 7 performance versus the Celtics, scoring 19 points on 8-10 shooting — including three clutch 3-pointers — and grabbing 8 rebounds. Then you went on to average a near double-double in the Finals.
You sacrificed for the betterment of the team. You played out of position at center. You anchored a defense whose next tallest rotation player stood just 6-feet, 8-inches off the ground.
We all expected that a team with three mega-scorers was going to rake in the points. And you did. But that’s not why you won. You won with great passing, intense rebounding, unwavering teamwork and suffocating defense. It was truly inspiring.
So thank you.
Thank you for shaping yourselves into such wonderful, well-rounded people. Thank you for spending your spare time engrossed in books rather than twitter battles. Thank you for not ending up on Court TV, or with the blood of somebody’s nose on your knuckles. You haven’t run afoul of the law. You weren’t spotted gambling in an Atlantic City casino at 3 a.m. when you had a playoff game in New York the next day. You didn’t brag or trash talk. You weren’t guilty of a single moment of boorish behavior or rudeness.
Thank you for becoming role models to the world’s youth. You grew up amidst difficult childhood circumstances and came out clean on the other side. You know how difficult it can be. Yet you embrace your past. You keep it close to you. It reminds you of what kind of parents you want to be. You love your kids. They always come first. But it’s not just your kids you’re worried about. You give to charity. Not just your money, but your time. So much of your time. You make wishes come true for kids like Thiago D’Elia. You step up when you think you can help. You don’t concern yourself with the politics. You help bring awareness to unfortunate cases like that of Trayvon Martin.
Thank you for being so classy in the face of immaturity, so dedicated in the face of adversity, so driven toward your ultimate goal. Thank you for not losing perspective when you didn’t achieve it. You didn’t call out your teammates or coaches when things weren’t going your way. You accepted defeat with grace and humility. And you did everything in your power to ensure it would never happen again.
You sought out advice from those who have achieved success before you, veritable NBA legends like Hakeem Olajuwon, Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas. You stayed quiet when self-styled guardians of the game like Reggie Miller mocked you for it. You didn’t point out the hypocrisy of it all – a man who retired after 18 seasons without a single NBA title spewing venom about the way in which someone else tries to seek his own.
You worked harder than anybody else. You stayed in the moment. Stayed positive.
You didn’t let your lack of size, lack of health, lack of believers get you down.
Thank you for proving what it means to be a team, for playing gorgeous, selfless, complete basketball. For persevering when Chris Bosh went down, when LeBron James went down, when Dwyane Wade went down to one working knee, and for finding a way to will yourself to victory anyway. Thank you for giving it everything you had.
Thank you for taking on the best the game had to offer, and seemingly a nation, and beating them with class.
This year’s team did it the right way.
This is validation.
It is validation of a strategy that took more than three years to perfect. It proves that the Big Three model does work after all.
It is validation of a decision to sacrifice everything you’ve known in search for something more.
It is validation of a legacy and Hall of Fame career.
It is, hopefully, everything you wanted it to be. And much more.
Because no matter what is said, no matter what is printed, nobody can ever take this moment away from you.
Congratulations to you, Miami Heat.
This is your time. This is your moment. You’re champions!