It was the most emotional night in Miami Heat history. Several battle-tested and grizzled veterans accepted their championship rings, monuments of years of hard-work and dedication in the NBA, the rings they had been waiting for all their lives. They had wanted it, and they had wanted it badly – Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, Jason Williams, Antoine Walker – and it had showed in the way they played. The Miami Heat won the 2006 NBA championship due to sheer grit, fight and Dwyane Wade. The players received their rings on opening night of the 2007 season, before squaring off against the Chicago Bulls. There was music, tribute videos on the big-screen and enough smiles to fill up a doll house. Confident, full of swagger, the champs took the court against an edgy Bulls team.
They lost by 42 points.
Things didn’t get better as the season wore on. The Heat struggled, playing lackadaisical and uninspired basketball on their way to a 44-38 record. It became clear that the vets had nothing more left in the tank. They had won it all and it didn’t matter as much anymore; they had lost their killer edge. They were swept in the first round by – wait for it – the Chicago Bulls. Whimpers don’t get quieter than that.
The 2012-13 Miami Heat were poised to face the same challenges. Because, till yesterday, the field had next to nobody who could tango with them. The Thunder posed the only obstacle to the Heat on their quest for consecutive championships and it would be the same Thunder team the Heat had beat convincingly in five games. With the additions of Allen and Lewis, plus LeBron set to have another dominating season, it would have been easy for the Heat players to hit the snooze button for longer than before, and hit the couch earlier than before through several days this summer and next season. The Heat last season were a desperate team; there’s no way they pull out two series victories over the Pacers and Celtics without Bosh otherwise. But next season? Come on, the Thunder are good, but we just beat them. We can do it again. We’ve got that championship in the bag.
With the Dwight trade, all of that has changed. Suddenly, the Heat are no longer the favourites to win the 2012-13 NBA championship. Suddenly, the picture is not as rosy anymore. As the weeks move on, the basketball pundits are going to hand the Larry O’Brien trophy to the Lakers even before the season begins. They’re going to say that there’s no way the Heat overcome the size disadvantage. They’re going to say that the Heat will be overwhelmed by the Lakers’ firepower and experience. The Lakers have a Big Four; that’s one better than Three. That’s what the experts are going to say and it’s the best thing that could have happened to the Heat.
Because, all of a sudden, they have something to play for now. The one thing superstars in the NBA need is a chip on their shoulder. They need haters and doubters, that’s what fuels them. The Heat are going to watch the media extol the virtues of the new look Lakers and they’re secretly going to feel disrespected. Make no mistake – the media will crown the Lakers champions even before the season begins. The Heat are used to being in the spotlight; why do you think shutting down Jeremy Lin in the Heat-Kicks game during the height of Linsanity mattered so much to them? They’re the alpha dogs and they don’t like anybody encroaching on their territory.
LeBron’s shown that he can achieve a new level of basketball play fighting adversity. He knows what it feels like to keep pounding against that wall and finally break through. And people who’ve felt that love new challenges. He’s rediscovered himself – he’s been the go-to guy for Team USA in the Olympics and it hasn’t even been close. And this is with KD and Kobe on the roster, not to mention Melo, the best closer in the game as many would say.
The Heat need a rivalry to keep them going and they’re going to get it. The Lakers will be tough to beat and the Lakers are going to look better than the Heat. Comparing the rosters, the Lakers appear to have the clear edge; but the Heat still have the best player on the planet by far as well as two guys named Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. When they catch fire, nothing stops them. And besides, that’s what basketball fans need. We need LeBron to be challenged further, just to see how far he can go, how great he can truly be.
Beating OKC once again would not be nearly as impressive as beating this Lakers team; it would quiet the doubters once and for all. The storylines are once again materializing; it will not be long before the media manufactures them wholesale. The Heat will once again rage against the machine for respect.
The Lakers are the new kings of the NBA. And that’s exactly what the Heat need.