It started with a black Larry O’Brien Trophy and ended with a golden one.
Hours after the Heat’s victory parade had ended and the celebration inside AmericanAirlines Arena was over, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra let everyone in on a little secret from the team’s playoff run that not even president Pat Riley knew about. The day before the playoffs started, Spoelstra presented his players with a replica of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the prize for winning an NBA championship.
Molded rubber and black in color, the symbol served as a pact between the team throughout the postseason.
Each player signed the trophy, promising to play together as a team to reach the Heat’s ultimate goal.
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“Nobody, not even Pat knew about it,” said LeBron James, the Finals MVP. “[Spoelstra] wanted to keep it between us. It was a testament to one another and didn’t have anything to do with anyone else. It helped you refocus and let you know why you were here and playing for one another.”
The inspirational message behind the replica hit home for the players. When it was Chris Bosh’s turn to sign the trophy, he chose not to leave his mark with his customary autograph but with his signature.
“It’s kind of heavy,” Bosh said. “When you write your name on something, it’s officially a contract. I kept respect for that because we understood how serious it was. Just visually seeing that, it was like, ‘OK, I’m going to take this seriously and I’m not going to tell anybody.’ ”
After each victory in the playoffs, Spoelstra and his players secretly marked a victory notch on the replica trophy.
“We had to see 16 of those notches before we could even get happy,” Dwyane Wade said. “In the locker room, we put that last notch on there, everybody started screaming and yelling.”
Spoelstra offered The Miami Herald a peek at the trophy. While the replica was black, the signatures atop the trophy’s iconic basketball were written in gold. The Heat’s team mottos — “all in,” “together” and “toughness” — adorned the trophy.
“It was a covenant that we made to each other, the coaching staff and the players, that we would commit to a handful of things each and we would say them in front of each other and if didn’t do those things, we would not have a real opportunity to win and play for the title,” Spoelstra said. “That was, I think, a powerful moment for the team, not for anybody else.”
In difficult times throughout the playoffs, Spoelstra displayed the symbol prominently in the Heat’s locker room.
“It was something that we referred back to,” Spoelstra said. “We signed our names to guarantee we would bring those things to the table. And when we weren’t, that trophy would come out and we would remind ourselves we signed our name and were not being true to that.”
The trophy’s message was similar in nature to the motivational tool Riley used during the Heat’s 2006 championship run. That year, Riley filled a large bowl with hundreds of cards that read “15 strong” and featured pictures of players and their family members.
With the group’s first championship secure, the motivation now changes. Spoelstra said he’ll give the players one or two more weeks to celebrate, but then it’s back to work.
“You’ve got to reel them in,” Spoelstra said.
The message Monday, after the streets had cleared, the tickertape had settled and replica trophy was tucked away to be forgotten, was that the parade and celebration wasn’t a conclusion but rather the beginning of something much bigger.
“You have a moment like this and you start to have thoughts of being greedy,” Spoelstra said. “You want more. Nothing is guaranteed. The competition will continue to get better and that will drive us. If we don’t get better, we’ll get worse, and somebody will pass us.”