On one spectacular play, he launched from the free throw line, twisted his body around one defender, then shifted in the other direction and spooned in a fingerroll. He plucked the fruit.
This title for the Heat should be savored as a well-earned reward, not brandished as a symbol of revenge.
No, this wasn’t about silencing the critics because listening to the critics was what got James in a funk in the first place.
Last season was too much about the outside noise. It was about “trying to prove people wrong,” James admitted.
This season was about the huddle, and what was said inside. Corny as it sounds, it was about trust, as Coach Erik Spoelstra would put it in his guru-speak.
A splintered group of stars became a true team in its second season. The Heat relied less on one-on-one isolation play and more on telepathic cooperation.
You could see the culmination in Game 5. Six players scored in double figures, four with 20 or more points. Mike Miller, creakier than the Tin Man, a trainer’s all-you-can-eat buffet of aches and pains, came off the bench to swish seven three-pointers. Shane Battier played his best in the last two weeks of the season, scoring three-pointers, drawing charges, guarding bigger opponents. Wade, declared washed-up after his three-point game in Indianapolis, won his second title and finished with 20 points, three blocks, eight rebounds. Mario Chalmers, maligned as the weak link at point guard, saved his best for the last two games. Chris Bosh came back from injury just in time to push the Heat past the Celtics and Thunder.
When the Heat swamped the Thunder in the third quarter and Chalmers began rousing the crowd, James crooked his finger like a teacher and told Chalmers to cease. Premature celebration of title(s) is a bad idea, as he knows all too well.
The trophy brought equal parts ecstasy and relief.
It was validation of Wade’s vision. Validation of Pat Riley’s blueprint. Validation of Spoelstra’s coaching ability.
When the Heat fell behind 2-1 to Indiana and 3-2 to Boston, fans were calling for Riley to remove Spoelstra and take over. Immediately.
“Stay the course,” became the mantra of Spoelstra, who never lost his cool.
The trophy brings validation of The Decision. It’s the first step in validating The Prediction of multiple titles.
“There was so much hurt and embarrassment from last season,” Wade said. “From Christmas day we were on a mission.”
Bosh, who collapsed in tears in the hallway to the locker room after the Heat lost to Dallas last June, said the “gut-wrenching” memory plagued him daily. He purged it Thursday.
James will be remembered not only for his 13 games of 30-plus points in the playoffs, but for his possessed 45-point, 15-rebound rescue of his team in Game 6 in Boston and his three-point shot on knotted, cramping muscles in Game 4 here.
James wore a mouthguard inscribed with XVI – 16 in Roman numerals – the number of victories the Heat needed in the playoffs. That piece of plastic is destined for the Hall of Fame.
James had to wait, learn and grow up. The Thunder, populated by 20-somethings, the second-youngest squad in Finals history, must wait now, but watch out – against the quicksilver Russell Westbrook and the gracefully deadly Kevin Durant, this could be the start of a beautiful rivalry.
James got to the free throw line only 20 times in the 2011 Finals. He doubled that number this time around. Last year he scored a total of 18 points in six Finals fourth quarters. This year he scored 34 in five.
Heat fans were cheering from the balconies of the condo towers across the street. Buses around town displayed “Go Heat!” on their route signs. Honking cars clogged Biscayne Boulevard, which will soon be the stage for a parade.
There was delirium on Ocean Drive, satisfaction in Seattle, bitterness in Cleveland, pride in Akron and disappointment – buoyed by hope – in Oklahoma City.
Many experts picked the Heat to lose to the Thunder. Last season the Heat would have absorbed the doubt, stewed in it, resented it, believed it. This season they ignored it.
Stay the course.