In defense of the Heat as LeBron and Co. march toward their title
Seven reasons why you should appreciate this impending Heat title, even if you don't like it:
Jordan was the best player ever, and I understand why we measure LeBron against Jordan. I do it, too. But how come we only measure everything LeBron does against Jordan's best?
Do you realize that in Game 6 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan shot 8 for 24? Or that in the 1996 Finals, he shot 41.5 percent from the field, and in the 1998 Finals, he shot 42.7 percent from the field?
In Jordan's era, newspapers and magazines were the primary source of information, and those had barriers to entry for writers. Now anybody can write, tweet or post anything to Facebook. This is a wonderful development in many ways -- so many more people have an opportunity to express themselves. But sometimes the least reasonable opinions flood the landscape. And so we crush James for the ghastly crime of playing a mediocre game, and we forget that this is what humans do.
Jordan was unbelievable. He was usually great. But he was not perfect.
And pre-emptively: If the Heat lose Game 5, please, please, PLEASE, in the name of intellectual honesty, do NOT say "MJ would have finished them off! He had the killer instinct that LeBron will never have."
That would be utter nonsense. In the 1993 Finals, Jordan's Bulls took a 3-1 series lead on Phoenix, lost Game 5 at home and needed a John Paxson three-pointer at the end to win Game 6 by a point. In the 1996 Finals, the 72-win Bulls took a 3-0 lead over Seattle, got blown out on the road in Game 4, lost Game 5 by 11 points, then came home and won Game 6. And in the 1998 Finals, Jordan's Bulls took a 3-1 series lead over Utah, lost Game 5 at home and then wrapped it up with the famous Jordan shot over Bryon Russell in Utah.
Yes, in three of Jordan's six championship runs, his team blew a chance to win clinching games -- twice at home. This happens, even to the best players in history. It is not a character flaw.
That sounds preposterous. Overachieve? LeBron said they'd win eight titles!
But Miami has an undersized lineup (6-foot-2, 6-4, 6-8, 6-8, 6-11) and lacks depth. The Heat also overcame injuries to at least two of their stars (James and Chris Bosh) and possibly a third (if Dwyane Wade is hurt).
This is a very good team that is playing great because of unselfish play and tenacious, trapping defense. The Heat offense has stagnated a lot in the last two years because of the odd roster configuration and because James and Wade are used to dominating the ball. They have both adjusted, especially James, and at times in this series the Heat offense has almost reached the level of art. The ball movement has been beautiful.
By which I mean: Shane Battier played for Duke AND the Heat ... and people still like him!
You would too, if you met him. The guy is brilliant without being arrogant about it, engaging but not a self-promoter. Battier is such a good talker that before the Finals end, I plan to ask him about a college football playoff, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, the World Series and the presidential election, so I don't have to interview anybody else for the rest of 2012.
Wednesday, I asked him if he will view his career differently if he wins a title. He said no. I loved his reasoning.
"It's not about the results," Battier said. "It's about the process. If you give yourself a chance and pour your heart and soul into preparation and the games, and you let it fly, you can live with the results ...
"I've played 10 years and I've made the playoffs most years. I'm proud of every one of those playoff teams, because I thought I helped maximize what that team was able to accomplish. That's all you can ask for. In free agency, I had a chance to come to a team whose maximum level had a chance to be at the top of the mountain. At this point, that really excited me."
If I hear one more person complain that officials are deciding this series, I'm going to scream so loud that somebody will give me my own TV show.
Sure, Oklahoma City has been on the bad end of some calls. But so has Miami. In Game 4, Nick Collison got away with a blatant goaltend, and one of Kevin Durant's fouls went to a teammate. Miami is leading 3-1 because the Heat have made the plays at crucial times and played smarter.
For the series, Miami has been whistled for 77 fouls and Oklahoma City has been whistled for 83. That is an admittedly rudimentary way of analyzing the officiating, but it's better than anecdotal complaints. And by the way, in the regular season, Oklahoma City committed 0.46 more fouls per game than its opponents, while the Heat committed 1.13 fewer. So the 1.5-foul per game disparity is in line with how these teams played all year.
Also, in last year's Finals, Miami was called for 10 more fouls than Dallas. Was that a conspiracy because the league loves Mark Cuban so much?
The date and time probably mean nothing to you. So why do I bring them up? At that moment, five University of Michigan freshmen sat in their locker room in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. They led Duke 31-30. The group included Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose -- all future lottery picks who would combine to start almost 2,300 NBA games and make more than $400 million in salaries.
If you had told those freshmen, that 20 years later, they would not have won a single NCAA, NBA or Big Ten title, they would have laughed. But here they are. Howard has a chance to win the group's first ring, as an NBA benchwarmer.
"I was very concerned that at the end of my career, would I ever get an opportunity to win a title?" Howard said. "And I haven't yet. I'm still waiting, still striving to win one."
The point? Winning championships is really, really hard. And that's why championships should be respected. If we don't respect championships, why are we watching?
You will never have to hear pundits make the specious argument that LeBron James is not man enough to win a title again. They will replace this with other specious arguments. You are welcome.
The NBA is scheduled play games again next season, which means we get more Heat, more Thunder, more Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and maybe a healthy Chicago Bulls team that would have had a chance to beat Miami AND Oklahoma City. With the title pressure off, will James take his game to unprecedented heights? Or will he worry more about being a league power broker than an all-time great? Will Wade's body hold up? Will Durant average 35 points a game?
Good news, folks: You can root against the Heat again next year, all you want. One title doesn't change that.