Sunday, June 12, 2011

... and new champion

No matter where you are right now and when you are reading this, you probably can open up a window in your house and hear cheering.

From Cleveland.


The NBA Finals this year had to have one of the strangest dynamics in history. The Miami Heat became America's (Least Favorite) Team when it signed LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the offseason, with James announcing at the time that he was after a string of championships.

Outside of South Florida, most fans were rooting for the Anyone But the Heat guys, and they got their way Sunday night when the Dallas Mavericks won their first NBA title. Yes, Dallas was thrilled, as you might expect, but I can't wait to see the TV ratings from Cleveland.

It's been quite a year in the NBA. Almost a year ago, James became a free agent after several reasonably successfuly but title-less seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Looking at the move in hindsight, James gave the Cavs plenty of time to put together a winning team, but they just couldn't do it. If you can't put together a champion with one of the best players in the game who is from just down the road in Akron and wants to win in front of everyone from his youth, you may never be able to do it. Plus, James reportedly couldn't recruit another star to join him in Cleveland; Chris Bosh was said to be interested in playing with James, but not in Ohio 41 times a year.

If you remember, James decided he wanted to play for a winner and took less money in Miami so that the Heat could attract more talent. If he had done that in Cleveland, that statue would be finished by now. In a day when pro athletes are criticized for only going after money, James went the opposite way.

But James made a couple of mistakes. He made the announcement of his choice of a new team in an ESPN special that was designed as a way to raise money for charity but instead merely struck people as bizarre and self-serving. Then was the introduction of James, Wade and Bosh in Miami that was too over the top even for Vegas. James then piled the pressure on himself by announcing he had hopes of winning a string of titles.

The Three Amigos, or whatever you want to call them, had their ups and downs, but they did make it to the NBA Finals. There they ran into a Dallas team that was peaking at just the right time, and had a couple of veterans with something to prove. Plus, Miami never did seem to have an answer for Jason Terry off the bench. The Mavs showed a knack for rising from the dead throughout the playoffs, and came through enough times to get to four wins against Miami to take the title.

Not to take anything away from Dallas, but Miami looked as if the weight of a season's worth of expectations took their toll in the second half of Game Six. As for LeBron, he's now one championship behind Jason Kidd ... and Henry Finkel.

What happens next? James has enough issues now to keep a team of sports psychologists in business. The obvious one centers on his play in the fourth quarter, as James suddenly has a national reputation for disappearing at crunch time.

(Joke making the rounds: Don't loan LeBron James a dollar. He'll only give you three quarters; he vanishes when it comes to the fourth quarter.)

The championship window will be open for Miami for some time. The Heat had to scramble to fill the roster because of the salary cap last season, and that situation may get a little better with time. James is still a great player; that part is not going away.

On the other hand, if James thinks this was a tough time of year, wait until the playoffs open next spring. The magnification of the spotlight will get even greater, just when we thought that wasn't possible.

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