“But that really was for our fans and it got wonderfully out of hand. And how everybody covered it? They used it as an albatross across our back.”
—Heat president Pat Riley, 11 months after the Big Three “Welcome Celebration.”
MIAMI – Fairly or not, tonight’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals is a referendum on the Miami Heat’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
And, fairly or not, any referendum on the Big Three becomes a referendum on James.
That’s where we sit today, hours before tipoff.
The Heat on the brink of chaos and LeBron’s words at the “Welcome Celebration” three years ago being at the root of the Big Three’s legacy.
If San Antonio, which holds a 3-2 lead, wins tonight and secures the NBA title on Miami’s court, it is doubtful the Heat’s Big Three will ever achieve historical greatness.
In fact, some would try to argue it has been a disaster.
And it all goes back to LeBron playfully counting off titles at that “Welcome Celebration” in July 2010.
In reality, one title in three years – all with Finals appearances – wouldn’t be a failure. But it would be a huge disappointment.
So the pressure is on the Heat tonight, just as the pressure has been on the Heat in every game since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Indianapolis.
They have to win multiple championships.
If it wasn’t for LeBron saying the Heat would win “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” titles, the Big Three wouldn’t be judged so harshly.
But he said it. And then everybody laughed and applauded.
The bar was set, and LeBron set it high.
This is no longer about Heat Hate.
The national movement that dominated the 2010-11 season is over. It died last season. People actually like this team.
This is about arrogant expectations.
The Heat still carries the burden of LeBron’s words at that Miami-style, over-the-top party that got “wonderfully out of hand.”
Want a mulligan on the word “wonderfully,” Pat?
Heat fans want the world to let it go. But no one outside of South Florida ever will.
Riley was right, and those words are now an albatross.
But it’s the Heat fault.
The defining moment, among an afternoon of unbelievable moments, was when LeBron counted off the titles.
The 12,000 or so fans at AmericanAirlines Arena exploded with approving applause. LeBron laughed. Wade and Bosh laughed. Everybody laughed. Life was going to be so easy.
Meanwhile, the majority of the basketball-watching world fumed. The over-inflated egos. The sense of entitlement. It was maddening and sickening. It is the reason people are holding LeBron to that eight-count, or something close to it.
The way they see it, LeBron was serious, or close to it, and so were Heat fans.
Even if Miami wins Games 6 and 7 against San Antonio – which I think will happen – and wins back-to-back titles, it’s good, but still not good enough.