How can this be?
That this one feels better?
Or, rather, the best?
That this Miami Heat championship feels bigger and better than any a South Florida sports team has ever won?
This doesnt make a lot of sense on the surface. The Heat won its first in 2006 with Shaquille ONeal, as big a star as there was in sports, and Dwyane Wade, who introduced himself to the country and stardom with a Michael Jordanish Finals. The first is usually the best, shiny and new, but that feeling pales compares to this one, and not just because it is off in the distance. That team didnt endure, losing the very next season in the first round of the playoffs, torched by the Bulls, and the emotional investments in Antoine Walkers and Gary Paytons were very brief. And it wasnt Americas enemy, either, engulfed in hostility. America didnt care enough to root with zeal against that team.
But what about last year? Why wouldnt last year feel better, as the first crown brought home by this group? This is harder to understand. Last year was a validation and a relief after a year of Americas mocking and laughter, the first such validation and relief in two turbulent and noisy years. That ride was scary, too, trailing the Indiana Pacers in the second round, Wade shouting at his coach, everything looking like it was falling apart. And then there was the seismic game LeBron James put up in Boston to save the season and the blueprint, a game unlike any he had this year, the single best game James has ever had in this uniform, and at the most important time. You need the fear to have the most fun sweeps and blowouts sound nice in theory, but there has to be doubt and noise for the silence after it to feel properly fulfilling and last year had plenty of fear before the trophy was held.
Better with age
But heres why this years was better: The feeling, the attachment, the investment, the caring they are all growing. This is how it is with all the best relationships, getting better with time and hardship and experiences together. South Florida has never rallied around a sports team the way it has around this group, as a matter of civic pride but also as a reaction to the rest of the countrys disdain, and that bond is emotional and strong and big. Year 1 made Year 2 feel bigger and better, and you needed both years, the pain and the joy, to care the way you did about Year 3.
It is like watching a child grow. Year 1 is cute but there was a lot of crying and feces. Year 2 felt like the terrible twos with a breakthrough at the very end. And now this three-year old is smiling and has a personality, and theres a relationship that comes with fulfilling rewards. Going to be fun to watch this thing keep growing up, up, up.
The last month was lunacy. Two Game 7s, the blueprint somehow again pushed to the brink. San Antonio was a different animal than those youngsters from Oklahoma City, a bejeweled champion that could somehow shoot 60 percent and make 16 three-pointers against Miamis piranha defense. San Antonio had never lost back-to-back games in the playoffs this year until the very end. San Antonio, as a franchise, in its history, had never once trailed in a Finals series until the very end. Miami took a champions best punch, and withstood it, and it doesnt hurt, either, that this fight looked lost in Game 6. Youll appreciate life all the more when youve come back from death.