It probably goes without saying that I will talk about the moment when Dallas led Miami by eight points with about four minutes left in Game 6. That sequence rages in my mind. And the thing is, I don’t know exactly how I feel about it. I know how I SHOULD feel about it. I know how I WANT to feel about it. But …
… it’s just a bit more complicated than I expected, I guess.
You already know that Dallas beat Miami in six games in the NBA Finals. And, if you care about such things, you already know that this makes me happy. Dallas played an amazing series. Dirk Nowitzki is such an amazing player — unstoppable. Jason Terry was remarkable, especially in the last two games. JJ Barea, well, what’s really left to say? If you ever had a vivid and horrible nightmare about losing a basketball game, Barea was the guy making the winning shot. But this particular post is not about Dallas. It is about Miami. It is about LeBron.
With Dallas up eight points in the decisive Game 6, Miami needed a hero … was holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night … he’s gotta be strong … he’s gotta be fast … well, you know the song. The Heat played thoroughly uninspired basketball all night, precisely the opposite of what you might have expected from a supremely talented team on the brink of elimination. Well, it wasn’t ALL uninspired, I suppose. In the first quarter LeBron James came out as if ready to prove his point, scored nine in the first four minutes, and Miami built up a lead. But that was about it. The lead vanished quickly and, from Dallas’ standpoint, easily. Then the Mavericks built a 12-point lead in the second quarter and squandered it only because Dirk Nowitzki, for seemingly the first time in months, couldn’t make a shot.
Dallas held the lead basically the whole third quarter, pushing it to nine on a jumper by Ian Mahinmi at the buzzer. The Mavericks played good basketball. But, no mistaking it: Miami played with a faint heartbeat.
And in the fourth quarter, Miami’s players seemed lifeless. The crowd seemed lifeless. The game seemed lifeless. This thrilling series seemed about to end with a spiritless thud. The entire “Taking My Talents To South Beach” experience — when LeBron James decided to chill with a couple of friends down in Miami and win a nice easy championship — all of a sudden seemed as sturdy as Papier-mache and as innovative as those Zune iPod knockoffs. Someone on Miami had to grab this thing, unleash some fury, make the game ALIVE again. Fortunately for Miami, the Heat happens to have two of the best basketball players on planet earth. At times, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are THE two best basketball players on earth.
Wade, though, couldn’t do it this time. This just wasn’t his night. He has grabbed these moments many times through the years — heck IN THIS SERIES he has grabbed these moments so many times — but on this night he dribbled the ball off his foot, he missed all of his three-point jump shots, he just did not have it.
And so … it was to be LeBron. It had to be LeBron.
That’s why the sequence with four minutes left will stay with me for a long time. Miami needed a basket of course — being down eight with four minutes left is not life-threatening in the NBA, as we have seen time and again, but it is not ideal either. Anyway as much as the points, Miami needed a changing moment. LeBron James is breathtakingly good at making such moments.
Here’s what LeBron James did instead: he stood outside the arc about 25 feet away from the basket. He did not move. And the two times the ball was passed to him, he passed it away instantly … as if playing hot-potato.
There was absolutely no other explanation that made any sense: LeBron James did not want the basketball.
I honestly could not believe what I was seeing. Maybe I should have expected it. Maybe I should have seen it coming. After all, I had seen LeBron James quit during the final minutes of his Cleveland career when the Cavaliers lost to Boston in the playoffs. I had heard him tell Cleveland fans that they expected too much of him. I had seen him take what looked like the easiest road to a championship when he signed on with Wade and Chris Bosh down in Miami. I had seen the disappearing acts he’d been pulling in the fourth quarters of this NBA Finals. Heck, throughout this game he seemed only moderately engaged. Still … I did not see this coming.
“Why isn’t he moving?” I shouted at he screen.
“Did you see how quickly he passed the ball away?” I shouted when the ball came around to him the first time.
“Oh no, he doesn’t want it,” I shouted the second the time the ball came around to him.
It was mind-blowing. LeBron James is almost 27 years old, and he has been a mega-monster-superstar in the NBA for eight years, and he proudly calls himself King, and he has played in so many big games, and he has had so many big moments, and here he was running away from this moment as fast as he could. He passed the ball away twice, fast as he could, then Mario Chalmers was left to turn over the ball. Nowitzki made a jumper. Dallas led by 10. And the game was over.
This should have made me very happy. After all, I spent the entire NBA season rooting against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. I rooted against the Heat with a joyous zeal. People often asked me why — some lectured me about it. That’s OK. I’m sure I can put the reasons into words if necessary. I rooted against the Heat because I was ticked off at LeBron for quitting on the Cavaliers at the end of last season. I rooted against the Heat because I was ticked off at LeBron for making a mockery of Cleveland and how much the fans there loved him. I rooted against the Heat because something about three buddies deciding to get together in an exotic locale and dominate the NBA seemed like a plot for a bad James Bond movie. I rooted against the Heat because I do not like anyone cutting in line. But the truth is, it didn’t come down to reasons or words. I rooted against the Heat because it was fun. I’ve not really despised a team in a long, long time.
But in despising the Heat, I came to admire them too. That’s how it can go with Sports Hate (what I have come to call Clemenate). I truly believe that in a weird way I admired John Elway more than any of his biggest fans because I watched him gut my teams again and again and again. When the Heat played well, damn, they were breathtaking. They were like the Globetrotters in real time. To watch the Heat dismantle and discombobulate the Celtics in the fourth quarter … to see the Heat turn the Bulls inside out … to see the Heat transform every turnover in to a dunk and every loose pass into a turnover … to watch James take over games at will on both ends of the floor … to watch Wade slip over and under and around and through defenders like Gale Sayers on a punt return … to watch Bosh make that soft and sweet jumper whenever needed … oh, yes, they could be so good.
And so, while I should have been happy when the Mavericks put away the game, while I should have been happy when the Heat went down at home in Game 6 with barely a whimper, while I should have been happy when LeBron James batted away the ball in the moment not unlike Yosemite Sam trying to give away the stick of dynamite, well, the truth is I had mixed feelings. I actually felt kind of felt cheated. You know that scene in “A League Of Their Own,” when Dottie says: “It just got too hard, you know?”
That’s what I think happened to LeBron James. I don’t know that. I can’t know that. The only person on earth who can really know for sure is LeBron James. But it sure looked that way. The Heat, with James playing the lead role, had exemplified arrogance and glamour and talent and brilliance. They mocked the doubters. They bragged that with their talent this season was either championship or failure. They told us so. But in Game 6, with the game getting away, with Dallas’ team of 30-somethings who had never won championships tasting blood, with the minds of their home crowd apparently off to the next thing (and on South Beach, there’s always a next thing) well, it just got too hard, you know?
And Lebron James refused to even catch the ball much less take on the moment …
And the Heat faded away …
In a weird way, that fading away kind of tempered my joy. It even made me a little sad. Oh, sure, I’m glad Dallas won. I’m glad Miami lost. I’m glad Dirk Nowitzki won a championship — he’s one of the great players in NBA history. And I’m glad that The Decision Season did not end with LeBron James holding a trophy above his head. That would have been a tough one to take.
But, the way it ended made me feel like the whole season of rooting against Miami was kind of pointless. Sure, the Heat came close. Sure, the Heat overwhelmed teams at times. Sure the Heat got to the brink of the most brazen championship in recent memory. But, then it got too hard. After the game, Chris Bosh offered that most cliche of concessions: “They wanted it more than we did.” But in this case, those words carried with them a little shock value. Really? They wanted it more? As a friend says: “Then what was the point of any of this?”
The way it ended make me feel like this Miami Heat team, with LeBron James playing the lead, wasn’t really good enough to be worth my disdain.