The framework for this 26th Heat season and fourth of the LeBron James/Big 3 era seems to have hardened and set. By decree it will be about big things. About whats next. It will be about whether this team can win a third consecutive championship to truly command the full attention of NBA history. And it will be about the looming, ever-closer summer of 2014 and whether Miami can re-sign LeBron and keep this magic ride going.
Those things are fine and true. No arguing they are the major brush strokes of the big picture as the new season opens here Tuesday night with the Chicago Bulls visiting and another banner rising in the bayside arena.
There is a small problem with that big picture, though.
It shows so much obsession with whats next, with this teams place in history and with The Decision Part II, that reflection and simple gratitude for what IS gets lost.
So I have two words for the Heat right now, and those two words do not depend how this season goes or what happens beyond it:
Thats all. Just thanks.
Not all may agree but, for me, what the Heat put together in 2010 qualifies as an unequivocal success not relying on a third consecutive title.
For me the Big 3 worked, without hesitation or asterisks, even if the troika of James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh does not remain intact.
Dont get me wrong. There isnt a Heat fan breathing who doesnt want another championship parade next June, followed by LeBron announcing hell be KEEPING his talents in South Beach.
But neither should there be any Heat fan whose appreciation and gratitude are contingent on those things happening.
This has been a fun, wild, intoxicating, fascinating trip the past three years a thrill ride ending in a slow crawl through ticker-tape no matter what happens next.
What Heat impresario Pat Riley had the audacity to make happen in 2010 made Miami the epicenter of basketball and the Heat the biggest team in American sports.
What LeBron James gave us was the single biggest, greatest, most famous athlete we have ever had. (I covered Dan Marino, too; there is no comparison).
When I call the Big 3 Heat our greatest and most interesting team ever, I do not do so casually, or without perspective.
I was a kid, a fan, when the Dolphins won back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1972-73. Don Shula, Larry Csonka and those fellows introduced Miami as a sports town to the rest of the country. To South Florida, those Dolphins were like the first love you never forget.
I was a young man, a reporter, covering those mid-to-late 80s Hurricanes football teams that lived at the top of the polls, delivered those first national titles and also played national villains for the battle fatigues, off-field controversies and blatant swagger. The Best and the Baddest Team in America, I coined those Canes.
This Heat era tops them both for that combination of excellence and excitement, of starpower and hip-hop flash.
In 2010-11 the rest of the country vilified LeBron for the manner in which he left Cleveland, booed the Heat viciously in every NBA arena but this one and howled with delight as Miami lost in the NBA Finals.
Finishing second amounted to failure. Chemistry issues involving LeBron and Wade sharing the ball invited immediate questions whether this grand experiment was doomed. And America was laughing.