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 29, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Protecting the paint is the obvious Achilles heel of the Cavaliers, on paper anyway.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Stauskas is thrilled to have finally made it to the NBA.
Aug 28, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT
Wade and Bosh show they can get the job done now that LeBron has moved on.
Aug 28, 2014, 8:58 PM EDT
Report surfaced a few days ago saying the two teams were in discussion.
Aug 28, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
Highest Court in the Land
Aug 28, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
I doubt that’s what he meant
Aug 28, 2014, 5:35 PM EDT
Could Trail Blazers guard replace Derrick Rose in World Cup?
Aug 28, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
See Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon and Serge Ibaka dance
Aug 28, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Black, who played at Kansas and Memphis, could be headed to Houston’s D-League affiliate
Aug 28, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Dan Gilbert, after throwing money at Kentucky coach, settled for management that landed LeBron James and Kevin Love this offseason
Aug 28, 2014, 1:55 PM EDT
Judy Seto doesn’t even bother asking Kobe to rate his pain, because the question is pointless
Aug 28, 2014, 12:59 PM EDT
Pop being Pop.
Aug 28, 2014, 12:20 PM EDT
Jazz guard will play behind Matthew Dellavedova and Ryan Broekhoff
Aug 28, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
Cousins was long safe and part of the USA rotation.
Aug 28, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
If you’re trying to age your game gracefully, Pierce is a great model.
Aug 28, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
76ers point guard underwent shoulder surgery in spring
Aug 28, 2014, 9:52 AM EDT
Rose will probably have to prove it while coming off the bench behind Kyrie Irving in World Cup
Aug 28, 2014, 9:15 AM EDT
Tony Wroten is putting on a show.
Aug 28, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Doesn’t matter who didn’t show up, the guys that did make Team USA one of two teams with a legit shot at gold.
Aug 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
For a third point guard signed for the league minimum, this is a nice pickup. Not thrilling, but nice.
- Cavaliers GM admits concerns about rim protection on defense 0
- Coach K had DeMarcus Cousins as USA’s backup big long before final cuts 6
- World Cup preview: No Durant, no problem USA still one of two teams with legit shot to win gold 6
- Cavaliers sold Kyrie Irving on contract extension with LeBron James-Kevin Love plan 34
- Kevin Love says Timberwolves owner should focus on his own team following trade to Cavaliers 35
- Iman Shumpert excited to play in triangle offense because he won’t just have to stand in the corner 9
- Timberwolves owner: Kevin Love might regret trade because he’ll be third banana with Cavaliers 48
- Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead Team USA in final World Cup tune-up 20