Greg Cote

Chris Bosh honored by Miami Heat on bittersweet night of “what if” for an era gone too soon

“35 is that thing you never think you’ll turn,” says Chris Bosh

Former Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh talks to the media about turning 35 during a press conference before the start of an NBA basketball game between the Miami Heat and the Orland Magic at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami.
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Former Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh talks to the media about turning 35 during a press conference before the start of an NBA basketball game between the Miami Heat and the Orland Magic at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami.

Chris Bosh wore both of his Miami Heat championship rings on his big night Tuesday, an unusual thing for him. His No. 1 jersey rose to the rafters in a halftime ceremony, minting his legacy and his place in South Florida sports for all time.

While it was capped off with a disappointing 104-99 loss to the Orlando Magic, it was still a night to be grateful, but not necessarily to be falsely modest.

The basketball hall of fame?

“I’ll get in,” he said, quickly. “I was pretty good.”

His place in the Big 3?

“Of course I was underrated!” he said.

Bosh earned every bit of this night. Of those two diamond-encrusted rings. Of his confidence in what he’d accomplished. Of the smile that underlined his saying., “I’m 100 percent at peace.”

Bosh T-shirts were everywhere. A parade of video tributes were shown. His eyes glistened as he watched his banner rise to the rafters.

The night testified not just to Bosh’s greatness but to the class of this franchise, which always talks about family and culture and showed — again — that it’s more than talk. Heat players were on the court watching the halftime ceremony, not in the lockerroom.

Former Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh talks to the media about his thoughts on his jersey being retired during a press conference before the start of an NBA basketball game between the Miami Heat and the Orland Magic at the AmericanAirlines Arena.

“If you want to understand our culture and what we’re about,” said coach Erik Spoelstra, “there’s nothing better than a night like tonight.”

There was uneasiness for a time, when Bosh’s blood clots caused the Heat to not medically clear him to play even as Bosh wanted to. The family got over the riff.

There were ill feelings for a time that caused Wade to leave for Cleveland and then Chicago before returning home. The family mended fences.

There was anger and hurt when LeBron left in free agency. That too will heal in time.

The Big 3 era was that important, that special,. and both sides know it by heart.

“2010 was a changing of the franchise,” said Pat Riley of the year the Big 3 came together.

“To the person who made the Big 3 legendary,” said Dwyane Wade to Bosh during the halftime ceremony.

Said Bosh, looking at Wade: “I was drafted fourth [by Toronto], so the Heat [picking fifth] had to settle for this kid D-Wade. Sorry to beat you to this jersey retirement thing. I had to beat you at something!”

Amid Tuesday’s celebration of Bosh, though, the underlying feeling was bittersweet.

They retired Bosh’s jersey as Wade’s “Last Dance” farewell season ebbed toward its final few games. There was speculation LeBron James might fly in from L.A. to make it one last curtain call for the best time in franchise history, but he declined so as not to take even a little away from Bosh’s night.

It has been a long goodbye, the getting past what we had with the Big 3. It’s as if we can’t let go, or won’t. And that is understandable, because it was an epic epoch, those four seasons. A franchise, its fans and this community want to hold on to what was irreplaceable.

It was more than the four consecutive NBA Finals appearances and two championships from 2011-14. It was the vilification from the rest of the country, a vitriol that felt like plain jealousy, and we loved it. It nourished us. That was the most celebrated, hated team Miami has ever had, any sport. We were the epicenter of basketball.

The Miami Heat retired former player Chris Bosh’s jersey during the halftime of an NBA basketball game between the Heat and the Orland Magic at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami on March 26, 2019.

So on a night like Tuesday, we feel nostalgic, We feel appreciative. We feel wistful.

And we feel cheated, perhaps. Yes, that, too.

Riley has spoken about envisioning the Big 3 era as a 10-year dynasty, one that would still be going and that might be up to, what, four or five titles by now?

Wade this week admitted to feelings of “what if.” So, Tuesday, did Bosh.

“Of course. Every day,” he said. “But you have to move away from what ifs.”

Like what if LeBron had not left in free agency, and what if cruel medical fate had not erased Bosh prematurely, and left D-Wade to go out angling not for a storybook championship finish — but on a team that was fighting Tuesday against the Orlando Magic to reach .500, to hold onto the eighth seed, to maybe sneak into the playoffs.

The whales stopped coming when the Big 3 dissolved. Miami and Riley have spent five seasons trying to be contenders again, trying to matter again — a year longer than the Big 3 era lasted.

“What if” is natural because it was a generational thing we had — generational if you’re very lucky — and it felt like it ended too soon. Stills feel like that

The only comparable four-year runs in South Florida sports history?

The 1971-74 Dolphins went 47-8-1 in the regular season and won two Super Bowls including a Perfect Season.

The 1986-89 football Hurricanes went 45-3 and won two national championships.

Then James, Bosh and Wade formed the super team that set the template, that showed Golden State how to do it.

And that was it. Three four-year runs of extraordinary dominance across 40-plus seasons.

We were lucky, but the feeling surely turned bittersweet for Heat fans.

Kidney disease derailed Alonzo Mourning’s career. The Heat recovered. Blood clots stopped Bosh. The franchise still is trying to get past that and James’ departure.

Wade is the last soldier from the dominant days. His final game rushes in, and a community is full of appreciation and love but also dread for the end.

Tuesday a community said thank you to Bosh, sharpshooter, elite defender, family man, world traveler, self-taught guitarist, expert video-bomber, two-time champion. Wade is next.

Heat fans, by the ache of practice, are getting too good at goodbyes.

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