Falling short of an NBA championship in 2011 was not part of the plan for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat. But it may have been exactly what the NBA’s super-team needed to truly become a dynasty, starting with a title in 2012.
Here is the cover story from our newest issue – Dime #68 – on the Miami Heat and great expectations…
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First, we’ll look at the last one.
The man who, once upon a time, represented the NBA for an entire country as the face of the league’s only Canadian franchise. The man whose career numbers mirror basketball legends, yet to call forth his name in a Hall of Fame discussion could get you laughed out of barbershops from Oakland to Orlando. The man who should, by all rights, be today what David Robinson was yesterday â€“ intelligent and iconic, as graceful on the court as he is gracious off of it â€“ but still can’t catch a break with a demanding and increasingly hypocritical public.
He’s No. 1 in your program, No. 3 in the trinity. Ladies and gentlemen: Chris Bosh.
In the traveling super-group that is the Miami Heat, Bosh is the unsung yet unexpendable bass player. The 6-11 power forward stands firmly outside of the spotlight created by his two more famous teammates, small forward LeBron James and shooting guard Dwyane Wade, making beautiful music that only true connoisseurs of the form can fully appreciate. If LeBron and D-Wade are the Wesley Snipes and Denzel Washington in this Mo’ Better Blues remake, Bosh is Bill Nunn, the big man in the background pulling everything together and making this collection of remarkable talent an actual band.
Through the first third of this truncated 66-game NBA season, Bosh averaged 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds, connecting on 50 percent of his field goals and 82 percent of his free throws. During a January stretch in which Wade was in and out of the lineup with injuries, Bosh put up four games of 30-plus points and four games of double-digit rebounds. He owned the fourth quarter of a Jan. 24 win over Cleveland, scoring 17 in the final frame and finishing with 35 points. The next night, late in the fourth quarter at Detroit, Bosh turned a two-point Miami deficit into a three-point lead with a pair of reverse layups and a free throw, then forced Pistons center Greg Monroe into a critical miss that helped preserve a win for the Heat.
So far, while Wade struggled to stay healthy and James still struggled to score in the fourth quarter, Bosh was the most consistently productive member of a team that at press time owned the second-best record (18-6) in the Eastern Conference, and was picked by 74 percent of NBA general managers in a preseason poll to win the 2012 NBA championship.
And look at where it gets him.
“When you say ‘big’ to me, I think of certain players … (Bosh) doesn’t fit in with those certain players,” said future Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal earlier this season in his new gig as TNT studio analyst. “Don’t get me wrong, I respect his game and he’s a great player, but part of the ‘Big Three’? No way. Dominant big man? No way.”
Biased? That too. O’Neal is the same one who, after all, called Bosh “the RuPaul of big men” following a 2009 matchup between Bosh’s Toronto Raptors and Shaq’s Phoenix Suns.
“I’m not a popular guy, I guess,” Bosh was quoted in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in early February, the day after James and Wade were named starters for the NBA All-Star Game. Bosh finished fifth among forwards in the East. “I don’t think I am. I don’t appeal to the popular crowd.”
When asked why â€“ and he’s been asked that question ad nauseam by local beat writers, GQ and Dime, among others â€“ Bosh repeats what seems like an answer he’s rehearsed many times: I don’t know … That’s a good question … It doesn’t really matter to me … I’m just trying to be the best I can be.
He already might be the best teammate. When this version of the Miami Heat formed its nucleus during an unprecedented period of NBA free agency in 2010 â€“ a trio of proven superstar deciding to sign with the same team when each could have chosen to be “The Man” on separate teams â€“ Bosh took the biggest risk. He put his athletic legacy on the line by making the biggest sacrifice to see if this experiment could work. Because as much as NBA fans and media have argued over the Batman-or-Robin status of James and Wade, Bosh has always been cast as Aqua Man. He is the bronze medalist. In DimeMag.com columns following the signing, I took to calling him “And Bosh,” because his name is always mentioned last.
LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh.
D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh.
There’s no other way.
Whereas James endures arrows of criticism for allegedly conceding that he couldn’t win a championship as the clear-cut No. 1 marquee superstar, Bosh’s move to Miami meant that during his prime years, he would never be able to disprove the more damning accusation: That he was never a No. 1 star to begin with.
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But how bad can a team be whose third-best player is a top-20 talent in the league? Or to put it another way: How great can they be?
There was a reason why James, well-versed since his early days as a high school basketball phenom in the art of media savvy, felt confident enough to tick off predictions of six and seven and eight NBA championships for the Heat at the now-infamous post-signing, preseason party at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena.
And there was a reason why Year One for the Big Three â€“ which would have been considered a resounding success for any other NBA team â€“ has gone down in the Easy-Bake version of history as a flop. Putting a team on the floor that was completely remade from the season before, bringing together three superstars for a jam session when each has grown accustomed to being a bandleader, and expecting a championship right away probably was too much. But the Heat just had so much talent and so much confidence, a championship was the only acceptable outcome.
Miami still made it to the 2011 NBA Finals. When they lost to the veteran Dallas Mavericks in six games, however, the media and message board harpoons aimed at the three big fish would have one believe the Heat were an utter failure.