Monday, June 18, 2012

The Lessons of 2010

By Corrie Trouw

It has been nearly two years since the Summer of 2010's dramatic denouement when LeBron James and Chris Bosh appeared alongside Dwyane Wade to plant a flag in the NBA's near future. And while the experiment will continue to run, at least for the remainder of these NBA Finals, we have enough data to begin drawing some conclusions.

This summer, Steve Nash, Derron Williams, and kinda-sorta Dwight Howard will make major decisions on their playing futures. Here are the rules they should have learned by watching the MIami Three swirl in their two-year crucible.

1. Don't turn your decision into a Decision. Ask any selection of LeBron-hating NBA fans where James went wrong, and you'll get a gumbo of squishily undefined answers. Some will point to his willingness to accept help in chasing a title, while others will say he quit on his hometown franchise. But they all will use the phrase "the way he did it" at least once.

(Incidentally, I've always found this phrase a little overdramatic. Let's recall that the last time the way someone "did it" was in the sports zeitgeist, it was a suspected multi-murderer writing a stunningly ill-conceived book about how he would have "done it." The dangerous power of pronouns, illustrated.)

Hubris isn't a mortal sin. We all feel a little puffy in the chest now and again. But when you are in a zero-sum business where success and failure are so clearly defined, hubris is a reckless parlay on top of an already difficult challenge. While free agency is a moment of great power and control for a star, it is a crossroads on the journey to a championship, not a destination. Make your decision, break the hearts you must privately, and start working toward the on-court tasks ahead while the rest of the world digests your choice through more stomachs than a herd of cattle.

2. If you decide to team up with another star, make sure you're clearly No. 1. The response to the Wade/James "who's team is this?" debate is very strange in the context of the NBA's previous couple of decades. After all, several stars made free agency decisions in the name of getting more shots, scoring more points, and generally being as big a fish as possible regardless of pond size. For all of the critics of players wanting to be The Man, James + Wade should have been a refreshing change.

But instead, in the 24 months since the duo paired in Miami, each has been derisively labeled as the other's sidekick in turn. This creates a lose-lose scenario where the perceived No. 2 gets little credit when the Heat win but retain plenty of blame in its losses for that perception.

What is especially difficult for Wade and James is that while each is definitively talented, their talents overlap. For all of their world-class skills, there is only one ball on the court, a limited resource each requires to bear the fruit of his abilities. With the microscope incessantly on the pair, schadenfreude-ist scorekeepers will gladly announce which of the two had the lion's share of touches, and it follows, who is No. 1.

3. If you decide to team up with other stars, for the love of James Naismith, make sure you're not No. 3. Pity Chris Bosh. Really. All the guy wanted was to be great by association, even if his inclusion in the Summer of 2010 Rat Pack was a little Lawford-esque. Now Bosh gets thrown into the pool of past-expiration names that surround James and Wade like inherited vases.

If Bosh had been honest with himself, he should have known his skills were not suited to supporting his new teammates. As the lone star in Toronto, Bosh could use his combination of athleticism and size to take advantage of matchups and be a low-post scorer. But in Miami, Bosh doesn't get the touches that had allowed him to get his own shots, and his wiry frame makes him a merely average rebounder and screener.

At this point, Bosh's name is thrown around as trade fodder for a better fitting-teammate for James and Wade. Just two years after a summer of stardom, he is a sad backup singer touring with a famous act. It seems unlikely he will ever realize the personal glory he came to Miami to find.

So, class of 2012, what have we learned? Consider this: the personal nightmares described here have come in two seasons where the Heat have reached the NBA Finals. In both years of their current construction, Miami will have played in the last game of the season. But through their own doing, both seasons have been virtually unwinnable. At some point, simply winning was no longer enough to sate the majority. In fact, their challenge of winning respect is most likely impossible.

The leaders of the free agent class of 2010 made a glaring mistake. They believed their own hype and allowed expectations to grow beyond an achievable scale. When you announce on your first day on the job that you're going to win championships by the half dozen, winning one a year is a dangerously slow pace.

Hubris is no mortal sin, but it is a popular material for building personal hells.

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