Friday, May 27, 2011

Whether the Heat Are Disdained or Loved, James Was Worthy Experiment

Because it’s entirely feasible that the Heat can persevere against the well-equipped Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, astonishingly with their feral defense, the folks in Miami are very optimistic, after the Heat’s spectacular contest concluded on the road in a hostile environment. And through it all, the Heat showed signs of resilience and persistence to keep hopes alive, maintaining a sense of pride in a sensational series.

LeBron James, so eager and coveted that he finished with a game-high 28 points on 8-of-19 shooting, was celebrating in the aftermath of a stunning fourth-quarter rally to cruise to an 83-80 win in the Eastern Conference Finals. And how they ever reached such a pinnacle is just amazing as it is hard to imagine the Heat being obliterated, while on the verge of winning an NBA championship and defying the odds of common reasoning. It’s almost as if we are watching the sudden emergence of a heartwarming tale, similar to a cliché or even a surreal adventure, which has proven not to be a mirage for the greatest trio of all-time in NBA history.

Seldom does a team luck out with much triumph in its first season of an experiment, a singular project that the Heat worked on last summer during the most outlandish frenzy. It is as if the majority of Floridians envisioned the Heat stunning the world, brainwashed into the notion of talent, star power and national publicity, when others disdain James ever since he turned into a villainous ballplayer — a registered traitor.

The outrageous saga of “The Decision” disintegrated his credibility and popularity, a megalomaniacal infomercial that oddly adopted airwaves for an hour, just so he could announce to the world where he’d take his talents. He left Cleveland after it was said that he was loyal to his native town. What followed, however, was a reaction from an enraged community after he was heartless and selfish in a town where the masses pampered and even applauded James, identifying the All-Star forward as the saint of the city for uplifting a forsaken franchise, which was in disarray with all the misfortunes.

When he left the Cavs hostage and broadcasted his intentions of joining the Heat to become part of the framework and build the deepest team in the league, as opposed to staying in Cleveland, he not only disavowed his pledge but also sacrificed his ego and legacy. In this worldview, nonetheless, he is described as a villain for accepting a pay cut and renouncing his claim to all-time greatness, disliked for betraying a deprived territory. There was every reason to speculate that the Heat were capable of beating the Bulls, ready for the challenge and to potentially taste the glory of a championship.

But dismissing the most powerful franchise — by definition — the deepest roster with polished talent, is an understatement. You don’t have to like the Heat, and whether you believe Miami has a bevy of egomaniacal wannabes or even wimpy superstars who vent after a disheartened loss by shedding tears behind close doors, Miami is everyone’s greatest fear. You don’t have to like James, the best basketball player in these playoffs. Oh, don’t you hate him? It was James who sent a message to the world, for bitter fans across the nation, precisely silencing the average person who perhaps witnessed it as a hallucination.

No one ever imagined the Heat, with an explanation that Miami wasn’t fundamentally sound and competent to endure a probable pursuit this postseason, clinching an NBA Finals berth come June. It’s easily noticed that this run was for the haters, and America must show much regard for a man who is unstoppable and who demoralized Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. This season, in James’ most decisive battle ever, he disrupted Rose so much that Rose was shut down and couldn’t manipulate the tempo as the orchestra on the floor for the Bulls. There’s no way, just no way doubters can dismiss the Heat.

And this week, in the most enjoyable series, the big three stunned the world and muted disbelievers and critics who hate James only for having a self-loving persona and for leaving Cleveland, all while he elevated his popularity in South Beach with a chance to win and celebrate his greatest accomplishment. It’s all possible for James, as long as he stays compose and enters every game with a combative, fiery and perky mindset in the upcoming weeks. So many times, he has divulged that he is worthy of greatness and can modify his game with clutch performances in the closing moments.

With an awe-inspiring comeback, in large part of an 18-3 run while down by 12 points, James fueled a breathtaking turnaround as the Heat were outrebounded in the paint, out hustled on the court, outran in transition and outplayed for much of the game until Miami benefited from the slew of turnovers committed by the Bulls in the final quarter. As he gains plaudits on the shores of South Beach where he is adored roughly for choosing to play for the Heat, it’s well-documented that James has risen and suddenly became one of the finest finishers in the game, hitting a three-pointer that brought Miami within five.

James, in his first full season with the Heat since signing as a free agent last summer and earning plenty of individual accolades as a gifted star, is already nearing the stage of his career when he is about to earn his righteous nickname if crowned a champion. If not for James hitting an enormous three-pointer that tied it at 72, Miami would be traveling home for an elimination game, but James was solid and unstoppable.

The witnesses in the stands were stunned and saddened, and painfully watched Chicago collapse. James poked the ball out of the Bulls players’ hands with his quickness and awareness, forcing Rose into a luckless turnover to end Chicago’s hopeful season. Here was James again, taking the ball down the court, waiting patiently to scan the floor and finding one of his teammates. Even though he had trust in his teammates, he was tempted to knife his way through the defensive-minded Bulls, but then, like a resemblance of MJ, even if he’s nowhere near Jordan, he elevated for a jumper and buried a shot that shifted momentum towards the Heat.

If James doesn’t nail the shot, then he’d obviously hear criticism for blundering and not passing the ball to Dwyane Wade, who was the one superstar among the big three who needed to have the ball in his hands down the stretch. If he doesn’t pass it, then he’d be ripped for not playing like a facilitator and not creating scoring opportunities for Wade and Bosh. Now, James is worthy of all the credit and proudly has exceeded expectations, and he’s probably the Heat’s savior in the playoffs for having the pedigree and well-rounded dominance. The most polarizing player — if not in all of sports — who is on the verge of inheriting the crown, has removed the tension from an enigmatic Bosh and even Wade.

With a miracle late in the game, out of nowhere Thursday night, the Heat stormed back in the Eastern Conference finals. In a series of intense story lines, with much emotion after vanquishing adversity and doubts throughout the season, James was the focal point of the Heat’s prosperity in the aftermath of the backlash he encountered in Miami. But even though he draws bad publicity because of his narcissistic foolishness, arrogance and ungracious departure, James is seemingly the scariest player on earth and has provided a blueprint for the Heat.

The onslaught he brings to the game — prevailing in the biggest moments — when the masses doubted James, has defined the self-proclaimed King and he’s the best scorer in the game. This time, beginning an adventure in Miami, he minimized his weaknesses and ruled by knocking down shots and trapping Rose with his superb defense. The three stars were heavily criticized and scrutinized, but the three superstars evidently played harder every time, considering the talent the Heat assembled to validate a historic trio, a unique roster that the mastermind genius Pat Riley envisioned and trusted in.

Every game the Heat won — bearing the circumstances of attaining greatness — thanks in large part to Riley for orchestrating a topical storm in Miami, indicated strong ambition. The prelude to a bewitching NBA Finals, a rematch of the 2006 finals when the Heat rallied from behind after trailing the series only to defeat Dallas, has arrived for convivial folks in South Beach with a chance to celebrate if the Heat wins and watch a parade journey down Biscayne Boulevard. For the Heat, a franchise that seemed flummoxed and vulnerable to an early postseason exit with a totality of softness and a lack of chemistry, this would be a step forward as Miami has endured a postseason breakthrough. The repertoire of skilled megastars emerged in time for the playoffs and has excelled in moments when the stakes were higher than ever.

For nearly a decade, James desired to contend with a championship-caliber franchise, and earned his wish. For nearly a decade, he was unsuccessful and constantly fell short of the exulted prize. But if he finally has risen to a primary star and is NOT the decoy in the company of an abundance of megastars, he likely has a bright future in Miami and could very well hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. This is the Heat we’re discussing here, not his former team, Cleveland. So if James and Wade made shots and suffocated Chicago, crushing the Bulls’ hearts and souls to relentlessly cut a 12-point deficit in the final three minutes, we can assume that the Heat are the scariest team in the East. As it happened, Rose capitulated and missed 7 of 9 shots in the fourth and committed a pair of turnovers before his last shot was denied at the buzzer by James. And the Heat took advantage.

“It’s on me,” Rose said after the disheartened loss. “Everything. It’s on me. Turnovers, missed shots, fouls. If anything, learn from it. That’s all I can do right now. The series is over with.”

Of course, there’s the issue that he won the Most Valuable Player award, but couldn’t lead the Bulls when it all counted. Particularly after Rose led the Bulls to a league-best 62-win season. But it’s now time to appreciate the Heat. When it was over, James hugged Wade and was elated over the gratifying achievements this season, as the Bulls were dispatched and hometown fans applauded loudly and gave a standing ovation.

“There’s a history in this game of great players shining in those moments, when the game is in the balance,” Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And all three of those guys are special players. That’s why we recruited them so hard this summer.”

The Heat, who advances to the Finals against the Mavericks for a series that begins Tuesday night, are four wins away from the I-told-you-so declaration as signing James and Bosh was relevant. The rally all started late in the fourth when Wade hit a jump shot and scored eight of his first 11 points in a spurt, including a four-point play on a mindless foul charged to Rose as Wade made the three. This was a historic comeback and, if the Heat attempts to win a championship down the road, well, they are on pace to bypass the adversity and outrage.

“We built up a lot of toughness and resiliency through a lot of things that we’ve experienced during the regular season, and even during the postseason. A lot of things don’t rattle us,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve built up a lot of confidence in our defense that we can get consecutive stops when we need to, and we’ve had several games where we finished with 12-0 or 14-0 runs.”

Hate all you want, but the Heat isn’t to be laughed at.