Stronger than ever, Miamis basketball kings begin the playoff defense of their throne this evening against the Milwaukee Bucks, who for what little remains of their season will be the equivalent of a meatloaf in the wild. Given that they lost this season more than they won, though, Milwaukees best players have been unusually yappy for a meatloaf. Guard Brandon Jennings guarantees the Bucks will beat the Heat in six games, and teammate Monta Ellis says he is Dwyane Wade without the championships, which is not unlike a musician saying he is Jimi Hendrix without the guitar. Alas, the loudest bark usually belongs to the dog that is most scared. In this particular jungle, the most skilled and successful hunters tend to approach prey more quietly.
We dont feel like we can be beaten in a series, the Heats Chris Bosh said after practice Saturday, then felt the need to add, We say that in the most humble way possible.
This was not presumption or arrogance talking. This was a feeling presented as a fact. Miamis basketball team not only believes itself to be the best, but is also armed with all of the most recent proof. Sports can be random, but this sport does a better job of weeding out the randomness than the others, the best-of-seven formats rewarding the most talented by forcing the anything-can-happen-in-one-game fluke so common to athletics to be repeated more times than not within seven tries. If Jennings were somehow to indeed be right, it would only be the biggest surprise in the history of the sport, if not in all of the history of all of the sports.
So this series at the beginning of this fun journey is not terribly interesting, but this is:
Viewed on a sociological scale, as a generalization carrying much truth, professional basketball is often our desperate inner cities fighting over money ... and an exit. The things that must be overcome to climb high enough to earn a living this way in America poverty, desperation, violence, crime, upbringing, environment and all the other people trying to escape make a player have unusual confidence in the skill set that rescued him from such things. The ecosystem and pipeline are so competitive and cutthroat for those dollars that, by the time they arrive in the pros, in the top 1 percent in the world at their business, basketball players are more confident in what they do than most of us will ever be at anything we do.
Team confidence, though, is an entirely different thing. It is built shot by shot, pass by pass, game by game, success by success over time. Just about everyone in the NBA believes in himself and his talent deeply, which is part of why Jennings and Ellis feel comfortable talking that way, but the trick is to believe in the guy next to you the very same way to trust, which may be the single syllable Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra uses more than any other. Confidence is so much easier individually, Bosh said Saturday.
But Miami has now stacked so many triumphs and overcome obstacles atop one another, not only in winning the championship last year but in almost everything that has happened since, that theres a certain amnesia in trying to remember how terrified everyone on this team and in this fan base was less than a year ago at about this time. One game. Game 6 at Boston last postseason, on the brink of elimination and perhaps the dismantling of the entire Miami blueprint. That one game is the difference between hoping and thinking you might be able to overcome and knowing now that you can. Confidence in any walk of life is usually built by stacking successes, and thats what Miami has been doing nonstop since being pushed to the precipice in that Game 6 and then watching a furious LeBron James finally push back. What has happened since, an empire under construction, is equal parts revelation and liberation.