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Friday, June 22, 2012

That’s One!

Number one.... 1
Not two, not three, not four…not five, not six…not seven. It’s one. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. At age 27, LeBron James has won his first NBA Championship, younger than Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan effectively skipped two years of the NBA playoffs (one year playing baseball and another scraping off two years of rust) and won six titles. “Not seven…” seems a lot less laughable today than yesterday.

Some thought the Heat would rue this day. It turns out that this wasn't fluff; it was a fair warning.


James is in his ninth NBA season, but did not have the benefit of playing college basketball like the all-time great players of past generations. Toiling for seven years with the historically limited Cleveland Cavaliers and virtually no perennial all-star support, The King made silk from a sow’s ear. He led the Cavaliers to their first, ever Eastern Conference championship in 2007 and led the Cavs to the NBA’s best regular season records, with 60+ wins, in 2009 and 2010.

The King was hungry for a crown and the Cavs kept surrounding him with jesters – in the form of below average role players and aged stars in the twilights of their careers. LeBron departed Cleveland in a very public manner, leaving roughly $10 million on the table for salary cap accommodations to join forces with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami. Expectations for LeBron and the Heatles went from “high” to “stratospheric”.

If at first you don't succeed.... 2

The Heat struggled with chemistry issues, jogging (rather than bursting) out of the gates during the first 20 games of the 2010-2011 season. While The Heatles final came together, the Bulls, led by 2011 Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, were running. The Bulls secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference and would have to go through Chicago to reach the NBA Finals; they did.

After being outplayed and outcoached by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, losing the series in six games, the Heat were ridiculed by legions of NBA fans saying, “I told you so! I told you that you can’t just mush some all-stars together and win a title. I told you that LeBron James doesn’t have the mettle to win a championship. I told you so!”

LeBron's detractors had a ball following the 2011 Finals. 3


In spite of another year of finishing second to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference during 2012 regular season, the Heat were the team to beat in the playoffs. Following the injury to Rose in the already injury-plagued Bulls’ opening game of the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Heat were the top seed standing, with the Boston Celtics being the only remaining team with a realistic chance of challenging the Heat.

The Celtics, in fact, took a 3-2 series lead back to Boston’s T.D. Garden, one win away from sending the Heat home, again, empty handed. Then, it started to happen. James had a glazed over look in his eyes the likes of which I have only seen from two players, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, in the past 20 years.

It was a dialed in look that said, “Nothing will stop me.” Period. No “ifs”…no “ands”…no “buts”…no insecure lead ins like, “That’s it!” or overconfident last words like, “take your best shot”. Just, “I will not be stopped.” No other words out…any words directed in response (good, bad, or otherwise) simply fell on deaf ears.

James exploded for 45 points and 15 rebounds in a 19 point blasting of the Celtics with no room for defeat. This was followed by a comfortable win in Game 7 in Miami in which the Celtics never really threatened the Heat’s lead in the fourth quarter. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had home court advantage at the beginning of the Finals, stood in the way of LeBron and his first ever championship.

Going "legend".... 4


The Thunder are collectively younger and faster than the Heat. They also had extra days for rest because they closed out the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the Western Conference Finals. The Heat only had two full days of rest following a seven game marathon/brawl with the Celtics. In addition, the Heat had to travel to OKC for Game 1. The Heat didn’t mail it in; they were competitive. But Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals was as much of a “gimme” as a team could realistically expect in a championship series.

I hope Thunder fan enjoyed Game 1, because it would be the last time he would get to see his beloved Thunder win a game. While the Thunder were in every game at the end, the experience and determination and, in some cases, gamesmanship of the Heat was more than the Thunder could handle in Game 2 through Game 4. The Heat led three games to one.

In spite of the historically insurmountable series deficit, the Thunder only needed a win in last night’s Game 5 to send the series back to Oklahoma City and completely shift the momentum back over to the Thunder. It wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t be close.

The Heat got what they expected from their Big Three of James, Wade, and Bosh, but it was the push to the finish line from their role players that doused any flames of optimism from the Thunder. Ailing Mike Miller scored 23 points and grabbed five rebounds, including going seven for his first seven from three point range. Three clutch three-point shots from Shane Battier and seven assists from point guard Mario Chalmers put the Heat comfortably over the finish line with room to spare, sweeping the Thunder after spotting them the opening game of the series.

The scoreboard and the clock were not Kevin Durant's friend last night. 5


What of the defeated opponent? It could be very easy to for us to forget that the Thunder were slight favorites heading into this series. There are only a handful of Thunder players over the age of 25 and their two big guns – Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, are locked up in OKC under contract for the next four and five years, respectively. I think this team will be back in the Finals, multiple times, over the next several years. If I had to place a bet, my money would be on the Thunder to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy next season.

Dwyane Wade is 30 years old and likely has three to five more years of all-star level play remaining in his career. This current core of Heat can expect the Thunder to be a potential roadblock at the end of the road for the remainder of their existence as we know it today. The Thunder can expect to “outlive” the Heat and contend for titles, whether they have to go through the Heat or around them.

Perhaps LeBron will rip off not two…not three, etc. championships. Perhaps LeBron and Durant with go back-and-forth like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson did in the 1980s. The future is never certain, but it appears to this blogger that the 2012 NBA Finals offered us a look into the future of basketball for years to come.


Maybe history does repeat itself. 7
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