The Miami Heat’s NBA championship is about redemption.
The central figure in this drama is LeBron James, who can finally shed the “choker” label that’s been hanging around his neck. But the Heat’s championship, clinched with a 121-106 thumping of Oklahoma City in Game 5 of the finals Thursday night, wasn’t all about James.
The championship offered redemption for the often-criticized Erik Spoelstra, who is tied with Pat Riley for most playoff victories (34) by a Heat head coach.
The championship also offered redemption for the Heat’s role players, the suspected weak link that rose to the occasion during the NBA Finals. Mario Chalmers poured in 25 points during Game 4. Mike Miller rediscovered his 3-point touch, making seven 3-pointers – half of the Heat’s single-game, NBA Finals-record total – while scoring 23 points during Game 5. Respected veteran Shane Battier, who had never made it past the second round, was a major contributor at both ends of the floor throughout the finals while earning his first ring.
But the major players in this drama were the Heat’s Big Three. During the over-the-top welcoming celebration after James and Chris Bosh signed with the Heat in 2010, this duo and Dwyane Wade acted as if they had already won a championship, with James infamously mentioning they would win “not five, not six, not seven” championships. Only false modesty kept James from going beyond seven.
The truth, however, is that only Wade had a championship (2006) on his resume. Bosh had languished in mediocrity in Toronto. James had failed to win the championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers that he had seemed destined to win since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.
In fact, an NBA championship seemed to be James’ destiny even before he reached the NBA. James was a superstar at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. St. Vincent-St. Mary won three state titles during James’ four years there. The basketball team became a traveling road show, appearing in tournaments all over the country and even appearing on national television. James was the main attraction.
When the hometown Cavaliers selected James in 2003, the rosy scenario was that James would lift up Cleveland, Akron and the surrounding communities by leading his local team to its first NBA title since joining the league in 1970. But putting a franchise and community on his back proved to be too much for James.
The Cavaliers made the finals just once (2007) during James’ tenure. But they were swept in the finals by the Spurs. Even worse, James began to gain a reputation for failing to come through in the clutch. In his final season with Cleveland, James scored just 15 points in a Game 5 loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.
That reputation followed James to Miami, where he joined Bosh and Wade, both of whom were also among the first five picks in the 2003 draft. The Heat reached the finals last season, but James never scored more than 24 points during any game in the finals, where the Heat lost to the Mavericks. A sharp contrast was made between the clutch shooting of Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki and James’ paucity of baskets in crunch time.
Although few outside of Ohio begrudged James the opportunity to move to another team, the manner in which he did so made James public enemy No. 1 in the NBA. James announced his choice on “The Decision,” an ill-advised program that made James appear beyond egotistical. Even non-Cavaliers fans were appalled at the way James kept stringing along his former hometown team until letting them know he was “taking my talents to South Beach” during the television show, the same time as everyone else found out.
The damage done to James’ image by “The Decision,” was exacerbated by the aforementioned pep rally featuring James, Bosh and Wade. The show made the Heat villains. It also put tremendous pressure upon them to win.
When the Heat lost to the Mavericks in the finals last year, many fans rejoiced at their failure. That failure further increased the pressure to win a championship this season.
The Heat withstood the heat, if you’ll pardon the expression, and routed the Thunder in five games. James was the clear-cut MVP of the finals, with the trophy being a nice complement to his regular-season MVP Award.
James averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists during the finals. He also produced a stupendous 45-point performance during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, helping the Heat overcome a 3-2 series deficit to the Celtics.
James has fulfilled his destiny of winning an NBA championship. Now, talk of winning multiple championships is acceptable. He also has shed his choker label.
Many people may still not like him. But they can’t take away the fact that King James finally earned his crown.