Chris Bosh ended last season collapsed in an AmericanAirlines Arena hallway, dazed and despondent after the devastating Finals defeat to Dallas.
He ended this season smiling with the championship trophy in one hand and his seven-week-old baby in the other, the euphoric culmination of the two most memorable months of his life.
A position shift to center.
The birth of a son, Jackson.
A painful injury that sidelined him nine games this postseason.
A splendid performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
And finally, a championship.
This June, the searing image is not of Bosh on that hall floor, writhing in emotional distress, but instead of Bosh lifting the treasured trophy skyward and carrying it off the court.
“That,” Bosh said, “was everything to me. It was just erasing all those memories, getting that bad taste out of my mouth. I live with that every time I walk down the hall. I forgot cameras were there last year, but whatever.
“But I think it was good for me in the long run because I could watch every single day what we had to go through and what I had to go through. So any time that I was thinking about just taking a play off or taking some time off or not working that day, doing the easy thing, I thought about that moment.
“Every loose ball that was around this year and this postseason, I thought about that moment, and that helped me build my will, and it helped me get to this point.”Different position
Bosh envisioned winning a championship here but did not expect it to happen with him playing center. But on April 12 in Chicago, coach Erik Spoelstra moved Udonis Haslem into the starting lineup at power forward and shifted Bosh to center.
Bosh had played center before for the Heat, but this was different. This would mean playing it virtually all of the time he was on the court.
He said that during the 2010-11 season, he was “shell-shocked” when asked to play center, which is often more physically taxing on his 6-11, 235-pound frame.
“I was still fighting it a lot last year for like, the ninth year in a row,” he said.
But this time, he did not.
“I just had a conversation with myself,” Bosh said. “I had to own up to it and accept it. If we’re at our best when I’m at center, then so be it. I knew that Spo and the coaching staff saw something, saw some way that I could help. After they asked me to move to [center], I didn’t fight it. I just wanted to be the best big man I could be.”
Bosh’s willingness to change positions allowed Spoelstra to make more use of a smaller lineup with only one natural power rotation player. That lineup wreaked considerable damage this postseason.
“A big step was Chris embracing the center position,” Spoelstra said. “And that really took our team to another level because of his speed, his skill set. He could defend multiple positions. As a center, he became one of the toughest covers in the league.
“He really had to sacrifice quite a bit and to get out of his comfort zone and things that he was used to in Toronto. That helped us take another big step forward as a team.”
Bosh missed the final six regular-season games with a hamstring strain, returned to start the Knicks series, then experienced a night he will always remember.
After accompanying the team to New York for Game 3, Bosh got a call that his wife Adrienne was in labor. He hopped on a private plane, arrived in the middle of the night, spent several hours with his wife and new son Jackson, then jumped on a plane, fought New York traffic and arrived just in time to contribute to the Heat’s Game 3 win.
Life was good.
But then, a week later, disaster: Bosh strained an abdominal muscle while dunking late in the first half of Game 1 of the Indiana series.
“It was very deflating at first,” he said. “I just wanted to get out there as soon as possible and contribute to this team. That’s all I kept thinking about from the moment I went out against Indiana in the second round. That was the biggest challenge that I ever had in my life. I worked relentlessly with the coaching staff and doctors.”Back at work
Bosh returned for Game 5 of the Celtics series — three and half weeks after the injury — but the Heat left the floor that night with a loss and facing a 3-2 series hole. But he delivered when the Heat needed him most, producing 19 points and eight rebounds in Game 7. “Just wanted to seize the moment,” he said.
Bosh came off the bench in his first four games back from injury. But the day after the Heat lost the first game of the Finals, Bosh walked on the floor with the starters during a practice in Oklahoma City. He knew it was time to resume starting — that’s “my comfort zone” - and Spoelstra agreed.
He was exceptional in the series-clinching Game 5 win (24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) and ended his 14-game postseason with averages of 14 points, 7.8 rebounds and 49.3 percent shooting.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise: Bosh shot 7 of 13 on three-pointers in the playoffs, after making 10 of 35 in the regular season.
Aside from LeBron James, no Heat player was scrutinized more than Bosh the past two seasons. So does he feel vindicated?
“Absolutely,” he said. “I think for all of us, especially for me, everything I’ve been through, just fighting, just acting like I don’t hear stuff, and just having the perseverance to keep pushing forward is just a sweet feeling.
“I know a bunch of people made fun of me and said I was soft, but you can’t be soft playing this game, especially at [center]. I thought about that stuff all the time. So I appreciate the people. My hat’s off to you for giving me the fuel not to quit.”