Those who can't stand the Miami Heat, and it's a sizable group based on social media, won't like this column. I'm here to praise.
We can argue about the inherent “fairness” of Miami taking a shortcut to bring together the “Big Three,” which has now become LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and (insert aging three-point specialist here). We can say they bought their titles by adding the greatest player in the game, as if every team in the NBA would not have taken the deal, given the opportunity.
But this postseason, in this championship run, the Heat took no shortcuts. They took a beating.
Before the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 on Thursday in Miami to win their second straight NBA title, they were knocked around, knocked down, bruised and battered.
The Indiana Pacers exposed some flaws, particularly inside against a big, physical opponent. The Spurs showed that a wide variety of defensive strategies and defensive matchups, could slow and frustrate James at times. The Spurs couldn't stop James, and he finally took their Game 7 dare to shoot from outside and dismissed it the way a great player can, and should. It was fitting, against that strategy, that James essentially hit the game-sealing shot from 17 feet.
Where the Heat earns my praise, and should earn respect from their detractors, was in their determination to push through hard times and adversity.
Wade wasn't the Wade of old (or should we say the “Wade of young”?) much of the postseason. His knee no doubt hurts worse than he lets on or we can imagine. Yet he dug deep and came up with some gutsy performances when the Heat needed them. There he was in Game 7, finding the bounce on a spinning floater in the lane, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds and logging 39 minutes.
The role players around the Heat stepped up when they needed to, whether it was Ray Allen hitting the three that saved them from a Game 6 loss, Chris Andersen sitting out two games but coming in for energy-lifting moments in Games 6 and 7 or Shane Battier hitting six three-pointers in Game 7.
Battier had gone from key player to “DNP-coach's decision” late in the Pacers series and into the Spurs series. Yet there he was Thursday, draining three after three on the biggest stage. “It's better to be timely than good,” he said during a postgame interview with ABC's Doris Burke.
Mario Chalmers was up and down, but he had the wherewithal to find his way to a deep last-second shot at the end of the third quarter that put Miami up by one heading into the final quarter. The bank was open, even if he didn't call ahead. Chris Andersen brought energy and some decent defense in the last two games, Mike Miller hit a huge three with his shoe off in Game 6.
Chris Bosh was missing in action more than once in the postseason, yet he had the biggest rebound of the season in Game 6, setting up Allen's baseline three-pointer that forced overtime. And as bad as he was in Game 7 – and he was epically bad – he had one stop on Tim Duncan late when every stop was critical.
And then there's James.
The question of poise under pressure ought to be moot by now, especially since he once again owned a Game 7, scoring 37 points with 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals. He played 50 minutes in Game 6, 45 minutes in Game 7. We take for granted how impressive it is to play at that high level for that long a period of time with every defense aimed at James and his teammates counting on him to be the best defender at the other end.
James had to earn this championship, to outshine the ageless Duncan, who perhaps missed a late lay-up and tip-in because of fatigue. James had to deal with the early series lights-out shooting of Danny Green and the late surge of emerging star Kawhi Leonard (19 points, 16 rebounds in Game 7).
Yes, James posed with a smug look on his face holding the championship and MVP trophies. Yes, he talked about being “LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio,” as if he was some unknown who emerged only through hard work and beating the odds. He has yet to master, and maybe never will, the aw-shucks demeanor that fans (make that older fans) seem to prefer.
Today's fans dislike the Heat much like previous generations disliked the New York Yankees. The champs seem to have the best team money, or at least player collusion, can buy. No one roots for the bully, except for their fans, and even those “fans” leave early if their bullies aren't bullying enough.
If the Heat players are looking for love, they're not going to find it many places outside of Miami.
The Pacers and the Spurs both had chances to ruin the Heat's party. The Spurs, especially, were 28 seconds from a Game 6 win and a championship.
Yet somehow the Heat found a way to prevail and win another NBA title.
You don't have to like it, but you're plain stubborn not to respect it.