“Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six..”
It was exactly two, actually. Any self-respecting hoops fan would know precisely what these words are. The simple enumeration isn’t that of a child learning how to count, but instead straight from the mouth of Florida’s then-latest resident – LeBron James.
Setting the Sky-High Expectations
These were the words LeBron James uttered in reference to how many championships his new team, the Miami Heat, would win. I remember my own thoughts when this went down. It was a mixture of dueling emotions between denial and acceptance, “Oh man, I hope not.” versus “But he’s probably right.”
James joined his buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach and turned into a massive villain in the process. He shunned his hometown of Cleveland after failing to win them a title, then created a super-duper team with two other all-NBA talents. He did it on live television too, just to make sure everyone watched it unfold. It somehow felt like WWE chairman Vince McMahon organized the heel turn himself.
But at the same time, it felt entirely possible.
Here was LeBron James, fresh off winning back to back Most Valuable Player awards, joining a team with no-doubt top-five players at the time in franchise favorite Dwyane Wade, and perennial Raptors all-star Chris Bosh. Who could possibly compete with that?
Although James was still dealing with his own inability to carry a team to a title, here was Wade who’d already done it before, ready to fill in any gaps if need be. But at the same time, this wasn’t just the teaming up of past-their-prime stars in pursuit of a title.
The Boston Celtics’ big three from a few years before them did indeed win a ring. But Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen were all on the wrong side of 30 at that point. Charles Barkley was already 33 years old when he teamed up with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in Houston in chasing her first championship. The Dream and The Glide were no spring chickens themselves. Both were way past their prime at age 34.
In contrast, here was a 26-year-old LeBron James still just reaching the peak of his powers. So was Chris Bosh for that matter, at 26 as well. Dwyane Wade was a bit older but still hadn’t even hit the 30 just yet. They had just formed arguably the greatest trio of in-their-prime stars ever assembled. There might not be any point in history prior to that were illusions of grandeur spun without even winning a title yet.
On Early Stumbles and Successes
Most people would agree that the Dallas Mavericks were the underdogs back in 2011. The Miami Heat entered the season as the odds-on favorites to win the championship. Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks were given a 20 to 1 shot to go all the way.
Dirk Nowitzki was indeed playing like a man possessed throughout their Western Conference run so far. But he was bound to hit a brick wall when facing Miami’s big 3, and especially his boogeyman since 2006 in Dwyane Wade. But in a history-defining performance, Dirk and his Mavs pulled off the upset.
Nowitzki averaged 26 and 10 while LeBron James fell to the team’s third-leading scorer at just 17.8 points per game. Despite the efforts of Wade, LeBron was that team’s barometer and he fell way short.
Despite that, the Heat were once again the favorites in each season that followed
LeBron would redeem himself during their playoff run the following year. He put up a masterful performance with their backs against the wall in Game 6 against the Boston Celtics. That game could have spelled a premature end to their team if they were eliminated once again. But James put his foot down and carried his team with 45 points and 15 rebounds that night. The series win eventually propelled them to their first title against a still-too-young OKC Thunder.
They once again won the following year, thanks to Bosh’s rebound and the miracle three from Ray Allen. Stealing away that year’s Larry O’Brien from the San Antonio Spurs kept them on their title-winning trajectory. But with their whimper of a performance in their 2014 rematch, the Heat would end their run at two.
Short but Still Sweet
Given the immense expectations set in the very beginning, it’s no doubt that they failed to live up to them. They won just two titles, nearly surrendering the second if not for Allen’s heroics.
But at the end of the day, they were still winners. Miami Heat fans won’t be thinking about the years they still should have won. Rather, they’ll look fondly on their days as the league’s reigning dynasty while fervently awaiting their next one.