MIAMI – Take one look at Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh – the Miami Heat’s Big Three – and you can tell they’re more relaxed this year. That’s because the focus of the season is different, it’s more about the Miami Heat than the Big Three.
That’s a liberating feeling for all involved.
“I feel this year we’re head above heels from where we were last year,” James said.
A year ago the Big Three were the talk of the nation. It was all about them. Everything they did was new and splashy, bold and dramatic. Back then, the Big Three ruled the world. Some even wanted to dub them the Three Kings. They bathed in the adulation and stardom.
Nowadays, things are different.
The preseason story is whether the Miami Heat can win the title, not whether the Big Three can win the title. And the national fascination with the Big Three has died down a great bit thanks in large part to the Big Two — Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
But even before interest waned, the Big Three took steps toward learning coping skills. Maybe that’s what happens when you lose to Dallas in six games in the NBA Finals, as the Heat did — you reflect, you examine. But you understand the goal remains the same.
“If we don’t win a championship, yes, it’s a bust year,” Wade said.
You also understand the title isn’t bequeathed, it’s earned. And you understand it starts with you.
Each of the Big Three had his moments of self-improvement in the past few months. Wade, who appears more physically fit than ever, did boxing, yoga and Pilates.
The soft-spoken Bosh, who married his longtime girlfriend during the off-season, added about 10 pounds of muscle and worked on being more confrontational and assertive.
James honed and developed low-post skills with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon.
And they all looked at peace.
“I’m at a good place right now,” James said. “Not too much bothers me.”
Perhaps all of this means the high-profile, star-studded Miami Heat is moving toward being a normal team, which, as we all know, is a relative term.
Last year was a circus with the Big Three in the center ring. Before training camp the Heat held a Big Three welcome celebration which, even according to president Pat Riley, got “wonderfully out of hand.”
There was a stage, pyrotechnics, about 12,000 cheering fans, and brash talk of multiple NBA titles.
Heat Media Day 2010, which was about two months later, was just as crazy, not from a logistical/orderly standpoint, but from a hype/interest standpoint.
Hundreds of media, national and international, were on hand to glimpse and question the impressive collection of All-Star talent. The Big Three sat on a stage together, answered questions together, went to photo shoots together. Everything was about the Big Three. The rest of the team ate the crumbs.
Heat Media Day 2011 wasn’t nearly as crazy. Maybe 70 or 80 media members were on hand. Apparently, the national appetite for the NBA runners-up isn’t nearly as voracious as it was for a team poised to go on a long run of titles.
Surely the lockout and abbreviated training camp has something to do with the low turnout. But overall, right now, it appears the Heat might not face the same type of hype, or, more importantly, venom, it faced last season. Of course, it’d be hard to top the hatred of last season.
“We expected a lot of turmoil and scrutiny last year,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Can’t say I expected the amount we got. It was a different level. There will be some of those moments again, but I like the fact our guys are committed to each other.”
That commitment was forged by fire. The Big Three were burned quite a few times. But now they’ve been through what they think is the worst of the worst, and although they didn’t win the title, they’re in a better place mentally; they’ve gleaned knowledge.
And now, theoretically, they’ll use that knowledge to win the title.
“I think we’re the best team in the league,” Bosh said. “And we’re going to work like it.”
The Heat should be a better team this year. If forward Udonis Haslem and swingman Mike Miller can make a contribution, and newly-acquired forward Shane Battier does what he usually does (play tough defense and hit 3-pointers) everything points to a good season. Winning the title is a different matter.
First, James has to come through in the clutch.
Second, the Heat needs to address its size deficiency/lack of presence in the middle. They need to find a reliable game plan (Dallas’ zone defense was so disruptive it might have been the No. 1 factor in winning the title). And that’s only a few things that need improvement.
But that’s for later. Right now the thing to understand is you’ll see a happier, better-adjusted Big Three at the beginning of this season.
And if they can keep the focus on the team, and not themselves, it’ll be good for everyone.
Chris Perkins is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com, covering the NBA and the Miami Heat. His columns will appear every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter.