Jun 21, 2013, 3:16 AM EDT
LeBron James wandered around the American Airlines Center court in an apparent stupor – receiving congratulatory handshakes hugs and from Spurs players, surviving a bear hug from Juwan Howard and sharing a moment with Gregg Popovich.
If LeBron looked tired, it’s because he was.
LeBron said he couldn’t sleep the night before Game 7 victory, and he couldn’t fall asleep the afternoon of the game as he usually does, either.
“You’re nervous. You’re excited,” LeBron told NBA TV. “You’ve got anxiety.”
But LeBron and the Heat overcame that burden, merely their latest in an exhausting three years, and now they have another championship.
The Heat’s challenges were deeper than just a sleepless night and a restless afternoon. No team has faced more pressure in NBA history, and the weight on LeBron’s shoulders was even heavier.
Of course, the Heat brought a lot of it on themselves. From “The Decision” to “Not two, not three, not four…,” LeBron drew even more scrutiny to what would have already been a controversial choice to team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
The Heat took their lumps, falling to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. And that was especially difficult to endure, considering the Heat received more media attention than any North American professional team ever has. Media outlets completely reorganized their coverage plans to devote more resources to the Heat beat.
Miami survived the gauntlet in year two, winning the title. Though that should have ended issues it didn’t – has any NBA champion, let alone a Finals MVP, received more questions about whether he can win the big one than LeBron did this year? – it brought a new level of difficulty.
“The second one is way harder than the first one,” LeBron told NBA TV. “I heard a lot, after I won my first one, they was like, ‘You know, they’re going to start getting easier and easier and easier.’ Absolutely not true. Absolutely not true. This was the hardest one by far.”
Not only were expectations higher and media attention greater, Miami leaned on a blitzing defensive system that, while effective, was physically exhausting. A 27-game regular-season win streak became mentally exhausting too, requiring the Heat to bring a tighter focus than most contenders summon in the dog days of February and March.
The win streak also created unreasonable expectations that the Heat could cruise through the playoffs. In reality, Miami need 23 postseason games to outlast the field, a total topped just eight times before. Any thought this was going to be easy was delusional, but perhaps nobody realized how tough the Heat’s road would get near its end.
They could have succumbed after losing Game 3 of the Finals by 36 points – no team that suffered a 35-point loss in the Finals had ever won the series – but they didn’t.
They could have succumbed when they fell behind 3-2 San Antonio – they hadn’t won back-to-back games in the previous month – but they didn’t.
They could have succumbed when they entered Game 7 – San Antonio had never trailed in a Finals series, and only the 1988 Lakers had won two Game 7s as deep into the playoffs as the Heat, which also beat the Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals – but they didn’t.
After surviving their final challenge, the Heat celebrated their championship, and Doris Burke asked Wade what it took to reach this point.
“Everything,” Wade said. “It took everything we had as team.
“We’re a resilient team, and we did whatever it took.”
A few minutes later, LeBron, awoken from his stupor, stood in the locker room under a mist as steady as rain.
“I can’t see,” LeBron said squinting and grinning until someone got him a towel to wipe his eyes.
Several times this season, the Heat could drowned in the pressure, in the attention, in the physical exhaustion. But they never did, and now they’re swimming in champagne.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:35 AM EDT
“Nothing to see here. Move along.”
Aug 1, 2014, 12:05 AM EDT
Bosh was very close to leaving Miami in free agency,
Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver engage in three-point shooting contest at USA Basketball mini-camp (VIDEO)
Jul 31, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver engaged in a shooting contest at USA Basketball mini-camp in Vegas.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:05 PM EDT
Mason Plumlee and DeMarcus Cousins will be on opposing teams in Friday’s exhibition.
Derrick Rose was aggressive in pursuit of free agent Pau Gasol. Recruiting Carmelo Anthony? Not so much.
Jul 31, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT
Tensions reportedly exist between Rose and the Bulls front office.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:01 PM EDT
USA roster has more than enough talent, so it can afford to sacrifice some to get positive attitudes in place.
If traded before World Cup starts could Kevin Love still play for USA? Colangelo said it’s possible.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT
Don’t bet on it happening. But it’s not impossible.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
It’s the memory of a lifetime… even if you get embarrassed.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Mark Madsen and Paul Pressey also reportedly candidates for Byron Scott’s staff
Jul 31, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
Watch this and remember why you love basketball.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
Wall raising expectations after Wizards met last season’s playoff goal
Jul 31, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT
Jul 31, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Does China really know what it’s getting here?
Jul 31, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
As tight as he is with Kidd, do you really think Payton would choose Milwaukee over Los Angeles?
Jul 31, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
Milwaukee, with Damien Inglis in limbo, now facing roster crunch
Jul 31, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Like most “feuds,” once two rational people sit down and talk for a minute, everything dissipates.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
That means he’s signing with the Wizards, right?
Jul 31, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Barring another move, Toronto down to one roster spot for Lucas Nogueira or DeAndre Daniels
Jul 31, 2014, 10:41 AM EDT
“We think he’s one of the top players in the league and we need for him to be that five that nobody has.” —Mike Krzyzewski on Anthony Davis
Jul 31, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Palmer to marry celebrity hair stylist Tanya Stine
- Bulls owner issues statement refuting rift between Bulls front office, Derrick Rose 4
- If traded before World Cup starts could Kevin Love still play for USA? Colangelo said it’s possible. 2
- Anthony Davis steps into spotlight, is Team USA’s lynchpin 17
- Referee Violet Palmer comes out publicly as gay 45
- Report: Cavaliers last team standing in Kevin Love trade talks 89
- Pat Riley says he didn’t think LeBron was leaving, Heat can turn around quickly 61
- Coach K on Rose: “Derrick’s played great, not good, and hasn’t held anything back” 30
- Report: Anthony Bennett pulled from pro-am by agent, possibly due to his inclusion in Kevin Love trade talks 43