I was annoyed four years ago when it seemed that time stood still as the world held its breath in anticipation of whether NBA superstar LeBron James would leave the Cavaliers of his hometown Cleveland and pursue greener pastures (no, not Celtic green) in search of an NBA championship, the only goal not within his grasp in a then-seven year illustrious career.
Annoyed because the world shouldn’t come to a halt when a celebrity who makes millions by managing to stuff a burnt-orange leather sphere through a basket more often than his opponents contemplates what city to relocate to in order to make even more money. It was not exactly the moon landing.
I was also annoyed that once James chose Miami, sportscasters immediately dubbed the Heat trio of James, Duane Wade, and Chris Bosh “the big three.”
There was only one “Big Three” in basketball then: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics. And before them, the original Big Three – also of the Celtics: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. I mean, what next – calling the Oakland A’s the “Amazin’s”?
Nonetheless, everyone predicted a Heat dynasty. The Celtics began the following season with their Big Three intact, and the great Celtic nemesis of old, the gargantuan Shaquille O’Neal, wearing the green and white, fittingly dubbed: “the Big Shamrock.”
Those four, along with point guard Rajon Rando, who was on the verge of superstardom in his own right, remained the best starting five in basketball, and toyed with the “Big Three” of the South.
Ah, but there is much to be said for youth. Led by James, Miami quickly capitalized on a series of injuries to numerous Shamrocks, the biggest one and smaller ones, too, and dethroned the Celtics as Beasts of the East.
How great it was, then, that the Heat’s trio couldn’t even with three games in the finals, and lost the championship to an unstoppable Dirk Nowitzski and the Dallas Mavericks.
The Heat did come back to capture two titles in a row, in 2012 and 2013, first beating the inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder, and then somehow managing to upset the superior San Antonio Spurs, who this year more than got even by thrashing the Heat in the finals in five games.
In the interim, Lebron James cemented his status as the best player in the game today – bar none. But the Spurs, who have their own stellar triumvirate – too low-key for nicknames – of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, proved that teamwork prevails over individual prowess.
And then, Lebron did the greatest thing of all: as the Heat broke up faster than an old-fashioned Christmas tree globe on a marble floor, Lebron gave up the chance to go where he could win the most championships. Instead, he went back to Cleveland, to pick up the pieces of the hometown hearts he broke.
Part of it is that he needs to challenge himself. Sure, he could have signed with a team who might be just one player away from winning it all – and with Lebron, who has the talent of three great players rolled into one, it would have been a piece of cake. Instead, he heads to Cleveland knowing that he is good enough to win anywhere, with any team, although the question is when. Will Cleveland win next year, or will it take two or three seasons? Therein lies the challenge, and James thrives on challenge.
Nonetheless, James deserves praise for shunning, say, the Knicks (who can resist playing in New York), the Lakers (another glitzy, warm-weather city), or the Bulls (to try to be the “next Michael Jordan” in more ways than one) – where he might have won the title more quickly and easily – and instead decided to give back, and go back.
This immediately creates parity in the NBA again, because Cleveland is now much better, but not clearly the team to beat. That makes for a far more interesting league. And for us Celtics fans, there is the added bonus that Lebron stuck it to Heat President Pat Riley.
Good for you, Lebron, and good luck. Though I’ll be rooting against you in a couple of years, when the rebuilding Celtics are once again a force to be reckoned with.