These were the games Chris Bosh gave up, horse-traded for the right to wear the same jersey as two of the game's elite. For seven seasons in Toronto, Bosh was the man, the leading scorer and rebounder the final five seasons he wore a Raptors uniform. Offense, defense, everything ran through him. He walked away from all that, surrendering, by choice, individual glory for the chance to be a part of history. Bosh isn't an afterthought in Miami, but he's not the first, second or, occasionally, the third option there, either.
Yet there was Bosh last Thursday night in Atlanta, thrust into the spotlight, asked to be the man one more time. No LeBron James (ankle), no Dwyane Wade (foot), just Bosh against a conference rival, playing alongside a cast of characters that made Toronto look appealing. Bosh was everywhere that night, grinding in the post, knocking down jump shots, racking up a Raptor-like 33-point, 14-rebound, five-assist line. He buried a three (a three) to send the game to overtime and was the focal point of the Heat's offense for virtually every one of the 47 minutes he played in Miami's 116-109 triple-overtime win.
Did he enjoy it?
"I know people are fascinated with the franchise player tag," Bosh said, "but I just want to win."
Right. So, Erik Spoelstra, did Bosh enjoy it?
"He's human," Spoelstra said with a smile. "It was probably good to show people what kind of impact he can have as a first option."
Yes, it was fun. Then again, just playing basketball is fun again. Last season was a trying one for Bosh. He thought he was prepared for the scrutiny, thought he was ready to be under the daily microscope that hovers over the NBA's Dream Team like a hot lamp. He wasn't. He wasn't prepared for every word he said to be dissected, every bad pass or shot, every missed rebound or block to be analyzed and criticized by pundits.
"I think I was trying too hard," Bosh said in an interview with SI.com. "Trying to figure everything out under the microscope, that's a hard thing. It wasn't about deferring. That's basketball. Trying to do that under the microscope was tough. If I passed, it would be 'man, he's deferring too much.' Or if I'm shooting, I'm shooting too much. I couldn't win. I had to get used to that. We all had to get used to that."
Bosh, like every athlete, didn't like the criticisms, but there were some he understood. He didn't take to heart commentary about his anemic rebounding or lack of assertiveness late in games. It was the personal attacks that lingered. Bosh can be an easy target. Often times he doesn't give canned, p.r.-vetted interviews. When he thought Spoelstra was riding the team too hard early in the season, Bosh infamously declared the players just wanted to chill. After another second-half collapse in March, Bosh appeared to be wiping away tears at the postgame presser. Incidents like these sparked almost immediate responses. There was the viral video that, in the opening, compared Bosh to a stapler that "you thought was going to be awesome, you get it, it sucks." There was ESPN's Skip Bayless branding him "Bosh Spice." There were the countless other critics that labeled him soft or lazy.
"People created this stigma about [me] and they just ran with it," Bosh said. "And once it was out there, everyone ran with it. It was just talk. There was no evidence to back it up. The name-calling and stuff, it got a little too out of hand. If you want to say my game isn't where it's supposed to be, fine. But the name calling, that's not journalism. Too many people, especially when they don't know me, were just saying a whole lot of stuff that wasn't true."
Bosh says he is hardened now, better prepared for what's to come. The Heat are 8-2 and second in the Eastern Conference standings, with Bosh averaging 19.7 points and 7.8 rebounds in 35.8 minutes per game. Spoelstra likes to remind everyone that Bosh played an important role last season -- Miami averaged 103 points per game with Bosh in the lineup, 96.4 when he was out -- but the need for a comfortable and effective Bosh has never been greater. Spoelstra has given Bosh the green light to push the ball off a rebound and fire three-pointers when he is open. James and Wade are still the marquee stars but when teams try to zone Miami's high powered offense it will be Bosh's feathery jump shot the Heat rely on to bust it up.
"He understands his role with us, and despite what the perception may be out there, it's a prominent one," Spoelstra said. "We run so much of our offense through him. Last year, when he went out with an injury, it showed how dependent we are on his skills. We really went sideways when he went out. A lot of times the impact he has, it's unnoticed."
It won't be, not if Miami is to reach its ultimate goal. Chicago has reloaded and Oklahoma City is lurking. There is a championship-or-bust mentality in Miami now, but the Heat will have to go through a gauntlet to get one. Bosh will never get the endorsements of a LeBron or Wade, will likely never be the man again. But he can play a key role on a winner, which, ultimately, is why he migrated to Miami in the first place.
"It will never be easy or comfortable here," Bosh said. But the experience that we had last year that is going to carry us. When we face adversity, when times get hard, we are going to overcome it this time. The tough times are going to happen. There is going to be a time it doesn't look good. We're going to overcome it with our mental toughness. It took a lot of adversity, going through a lot of scrutiny, having so much pressure in the playoff games, it took all that for us to get to this point. We're ready."