After all the laughter and mocking and criticism after all the doubt and fear that knocked on the locker-room door, trying to bust in while being pushed back after all the hyperventilating, unreasonable, knee-jerk coverage that had the entire blueprint being dismantled just seven games ago something else sweeps over Basketball America now. It is quieter and less angry and no longer sounds much like laughter, rest assured. It is more of a wincing, uh-oh fear that comes with the realization that this particular storm has not passed but rather is just now finally gathering strength.
Because now Miami knows how to do it. Because now LeBron James, the only player in the sport without a single hole in his game, owns the keys that unlock everything. Because now doubt has been knocked aside by proof. Because now Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh know their roles. Because now veterans have seen what Shane Battier did at the end, and are going to want to go out like that, too. Because now Miami knows it can get through its conference to the title games even when trailing with one of its All-Stars out. Because, ho-hum, now road playoff games against three Hall of Famers and a three-time All-Star, on the brink of elimination in Boston, produce not shrinkage but rather 45 and 15 from the man-beast who carries them. Because now imagine what happens when Wade has rest and two healthy knees again.
Because losing brought them together closer than theyve ever been and then winning brought them closer together than even that. Because the past two years, when they were weaker, are harder than anything these guys will have to endure going forward, when they are stronger. And because the teams that know what Miami knows like the Celtics and Spurs are too old to do anything about what is coming. And because the teams that dont yet know what Miami knows are too young to counter it, as Oklahoma City just proved. Yes, today is Miamis time. But tomorrow is, too.
Look at what you did, America. You created a monster that broke out of its shackles, roared and has shaken this entire city all weekend with the fury it unleashed, making children like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and James Harden scurry out of its swaggering path. Maybe Bosh, who has never wanted to play center, doesnt go to center, and maybe Wade, who doesnt like to be a No. 2, doesnt happily accept being a No.2, and maybe James, who admits he doesnt like banging in the post, doesnt spend this entire postseason there if not for all your echoing laughter.
Your mocking began because of the perceived presumption and arrogance in that welcoming celebration two years ago, but my how the view changes through Americas eyes now that Miami has morphed from entitled to titled. Miami has been a target until now, but now everyone else in the league becomes that. How is confidence built, in any walk of life? By stacking successes atop each other. America and the league and the Mavericks won last year, and there was comfort in that, and it was good for the game and for ratings, but heres the thing: That was your best chance. Pat Riley always thought the first year of this little project of his would be the weakest. Miami just dismantled an Oklahoma City team that was, in every statistical efficiency ranking, better than the Dallas one Miami lost against last year.