Jun 21, 2013, 3:16 AM EST
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.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Dunk of the year by Johnson had Drummond throwing elbows.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Rivers saw this coming just four games into the season.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Lin understands why Bryant always gets the ball in these situations, but admits he’d like to get some opportunities.
Dec 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
As the Thunder ended up winning by one, 104-103, this block ended up being very important.
Dec 20, 2014, 2:07 AM EST
Lillard needs to get mentioned with the game’s top point guards.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:49 AM EST
Young earned this one and will get to write a check to the league.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:02 AM EST
Former NBA player now trying to make his way as a fighter.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:50 PM EST
There are a whole host of reasons Rondo was traded; this is just the most convenient for Boston’s brass.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:40 PM EST
Nice gesture by the players.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:30 PM EST
…pretty smoothly somehow
Dec 19, 2014, 7:25 PM EST
Leonard was the Finals MVP for San Antonio last season.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:45 PM EST
Warriors coach has jokes
Dec 19, 2014, 6:35 PM EST
This is the smart move by the Thunder.
Dec 19, 2014, 5:59 PM EST
It’s kind of moot now, but it’s not a surprise.
Dec 19, 2014, 5:15 PM EST
Lakers star: ‘If the opportunity came up, then that’s the time to have that discussion’
Dec 19, 2014, 4:29 PM EST
Black-and-white version of Toronto’s new logo looks similar to Brooklyn’s
Dec 19, 2014, 3:44 PM EST
President wants to see more athletes take political stands
Dec 19, 2014, 2:56 PM EST
This gives the Rockets a little more depth on the wing with Harden and Ariza.
Dec 19, 2014, 2:15 PM EST
Thunder star sprained ankle against Warriors
Dec 19, 2014, 1:40 PM EST
Miller starting against Nets in first game back from concussion
- Clippers rip officials after being called for seven technical fouls in loss to Nuggets 5
- Jeremy Lin after Kobe misses at the buzzer: ‘I like game-winners too’ 17
- Damian Lillard drops career high 43, leads Blazers to 3OT win over Spurs (VIDEO) 6
- Kendrick Perkins: Rajon Rondo wanted out of Boston 7
- Report: Minnesota agrees to trade Corey Brewer to Houston 6
- Dallas moves into title contender status with addition of Rajon Rondo 42
- Kevin Durant turns ankle, leaves game not to return; X-rays negative. 4
- Report: Celtics ‘pretty pleased’ with return they got in trade for Rajon Rondo 31