Saturday, May 14, 2011

Miami Heat: Whose team is it anyway?

(1/11/2011 - Harry How/Getty Images North America)
Well, Fellas, whose team is it? Inquiring minds want to know.

From the moment the words "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach..." spilled out of LeBron James' mouth, sports fans and pundits have been asking "Whose team is the Miami Heat"?

Ugh, not this again....

Several theories immediately came to the forefront of the public consciousness. 1) Dwyane Wade has won a title for the Heat. Therefore the team will be his. 2) LeBron is the best player in the league. Therefore, the best player on the team leads the team. 3) Neither of these players will be able to take a backseat to the other. Therefore, it's never going to work out. It took the Heat awhile to figure out how to make this dynamic work, but with the second round of the playoffs over the Heat have finally answered this question for all the world: The team belongs to Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

The answer seems so simple, yet so complicated and unconventional. It's understandable why some people couldn't comprehend this dynamic having success. We live in a world where for the most part teams and groups only have one leader. There's only one president in the USA. One mayor of a city. One commission of the NBA. Peyton Manning is the leader of the Colts. Derek Jeter led the Yankees through many championships. And most pertinent to the present conversation, Michael Jordan was the leader of the Bulls. The Heat are doing more than just challenging this convention. They're breaking down barriers that few thought they could.

At this point in the season, there's ample evidence to support this conclusion. And you need to look no further than the two series the Heat have played in the playoffs. In the series against Philadelphia, Wade was the dedicated closer, and it made perfect sense for that to be the case. One of the best defenders in the league, Andre Iguodala was matched up against LeBron for most of the series, while Wade was generally being defended by Lou Williams or rookie Evan Turner. These match ups were a ripe opportunity for Wade to take over at the end of the games. Sometimes the Heat ran the Wade/James PnR to get a switch on defense and have LeBron post up whoever Wade's defender was, but for the most part it was Wade who had the ball and making the decisions at the end of the games.

In the Celtic series both players had their moments. Game 1 was pure Wade domination. He led his team with 13 points in the 4th quarter and had 38 overall. Game 2 was classic LeBron James. He had one of the greatest games of his career with 12 points and 6 Rebounds in the 4th to finish off a 35 point game. Game 3 was an utter disaster for the Miami Heat. We'll just pretend that game didn't happen. In Game 4 LeBron was back at it again with an 11 point 4th quarter and stifling defense on Pierce to help force an overtime with which the Heat eventually ran away. Game 5, however, was probably the best example of the dynamic. The first half belonged to Wade, but he struggled late as he appeared to run out of steam. James, who told Wade at halftime that he'd have his back, did exactly what he promised. He scored 23 in the 2nd half including the last 10 points of the game to close out the series against the Celtics. In one telling moment within the final minute of the game, LeBron was at the top of the key and looked toward Dwyane in the near corner. Dwyane waved back to LeBron, motioning for him to finish what he started. Deferring. Trusting.

So what does all this tell us? Do we know who the Alpha of the Heat is? Absolutely. The answer is both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. They're doing what few people ever thought two superstars in their primes could do. Put aside their egos for the sake of winning. The Heat's closer on any given night is whoever has the best match up or is playing better. It's that simple. I realize it's tough for some people to come to terms with this idea. I realize some people don't want to accept it. And that's fine. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have not only accepted it. They've embraced it. For winning, that's all that matters.

(Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
"Hey Dwyane, look at how much fun winning is!"

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