LeBron James and the Miami Heat formed the dominant team of the early 2010s. They won two championships and made four straight NBA Finals appearances during their run. Before the Golden State Warriors’ eventual rise, they were the alpha dogs of the NBA. But apparently, the Heat were just one loss away from an early break up.
The Miami Heat’s Sliding Doors Moment
During the 2012 Playoffs, Miami found themselves facing a 3-2 wall against the Boston Celtics. The stakes were obviously sky high from a basketball perspective. But little did we know the following game would shape the entire landscape of the NBA as we know it.
LeBron James just knew that if they messed up once again, that it could spell the end for the Heatles right then and there. He shared this on an Instagram Live chat with fans.
“My mentality was if we lose, [Heat president] Pat Riley may break us all up,” he said. “And I [didn’t] want that,” James said. “It might be the quickest breakup in basketball history.”
But of course, we know what happened after that. The Miami Heat would obliterate the Celtics in Game 6, led by a masterful performance from LeBron James himself. James put up 45 points on the board on a blistering 19 for 26, while adding on 15 rebounds for good measure. They won the game 98 – 79, the momentum of which carried them onto a Game 7 victory and eventually their first championship.
“Win, lose or draw, I had to be focused. I had to lock in and lead us to victory,” James said of the moment. “Didn’t know if it was going to happen that way, but that was my mindset.”
The Potential Impact on LeBron James’ Legacy
The gravity of the moment was not in the slightest lost on LeBron James. Beyond just the basketball aspect in a vacuum, as well as the potentially premature breakup of their superteam, LeBron knew how much another failed postseason run would impact his legacy.
Not only might they break it all up, but my legacy is going to take a huge, huge hit if I don’t go out here and perform at an all-time high,” James added.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat already lost in the NBA Finals the previous season. The impact of that one series victory had for the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki and his overall legacy was immeasurable. But to that effect, the loss tarnished the legacy of LeBron James just as much.
He was at that point 0 and 2 on the NBA’s biggest stage, and was ever so close to not even making it in 2012. If James and the Heat had fallen to the Celtics in one of their next two games, he’d be undoubtedly considered a perennial loser.
We forget how heavy this opinion held true during that earlier portion of LeBron’s career. He was an all-time regular season presences whose teams repeatedly fell short of expectations in the postseason. Even after teaming up with two all-NBA talents, he couldn’t get over the hump and win it all.
Another failed run at the hands of the Celtics that series could have been a death knell to the team that gave James his best chances to win a title.
Redemption and Legacy Restoration
But of course, LeBron James had a say in all of this. After their commanding performances in Games 6 and 7, they would go on to face an up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder team. Although they were led by more than a few future super duper stars, the team was much too green at the time.
The young Thunder didn’t hold the experience or the mental fortitude that the Miami Heat stars did, especially after pulling off their ferocious comeback against the Boston Celtics.
The Oklahoma City Thunder did pull of a Game 1 upset over the heavily-favored Heat. Kevin Durant out-dueled LeBron James during the final stretches of the game. KD dropped 17 of his 36 points during the fourth quarter of that game while James remained dormant at the time.
Suddenly, it looked like de ja vu for James and his Heat side. But they would end up winning the next four games consecutively, securing the title and validating the upset they pulled off against the Boston Celtics just weeks prior.
LeBron James rose above the challenges, along with star teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and eventually redeemed himself and their team from the shortcomings of the past.
If LeBron and co. couldn’t pull off the comeback against Boston, who knows what would have happened to the team? But they would go on to win the next two titles, and the rest as they say is history.