There was a tumultuous 149-day lockout and the public outrage about it, which I never understood. It is the American way to engage in labor negotiations between ownership and management.
Yet when predominately African-American men stand up for a decent labor package and a share of the monetary gains from their hard efforts on the basketball court, too many radio and Internet jerks take that opportunity to lambast the game of basketball and the players themselves. Many called them selfish and predicted that no one would watch or care about the NBA after the long lockout.
Well, the 2011-12 season happened and it just ended with the Miami Heat and LaBron James winning the NBA title. The NBA Finals were entertaining and hard fought. In fact, the entire NBA Playoffs were very engaging, full of interesting twists and, of course, magnificent action on the court.
Miami overcame an outstanding Oklahoma City Thunder squad that had just ran through three former NBA championship teams (Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs) before they produced their first four consecutive loss stretch of the season.
Led by James’ 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, the Heat routed the Thunder 121-106 to win the NBA Finals in five games. It was the franchise’s second NBA title.
Miami became the third team to sweep the middle three games at home in the 2-3-2 format. The Detroit Pistons took all three from the Lakers in 2004 before the Heat did it against Dallas in 2006.
James and the Heat have been the most scrutinized in all of sports and the favorite of too many in the media as the team to disparage, disrespect and/or ridicule.
But now the Heat in on, literally, as South Beach is on fire with the passion of winning the NBA title. The Heat players are also touched by the glory of overcoming tons of naysayers and finding a way to come from behind against two very tough Eastern Conference foes (Indianapolis and Boston) that had them on the ropes.
One could see the elation and relief in the faces of the Heat players after their victory.
“It means everything,” James told reporters after the win. “I made a difficult decision to leave Cleveland but I understood what my future was about . I knew we had a bright future (in Miami). This is a dream come true for me. This is definitely when it pays off.”
The Heat burned the Thunder so thoroughly, with 3:01 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, James left the game along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for good remaining for a round of hugs and the celebration started. That was what James had been waiting for since arriving in the NBA out of high school as the No. 1 pick of the 2003 draft.
He hopped up and down in the final minutes, shared a long hug with opponent Kevin Durant, and watched the confetti rain down from the rafters.
The Big Three along with James came through in game five. Bosh, who broke down in tears as the Heat left their own court after losing game six last year, finished with 24 points and Wade scored 20.
But the Miami victory was fueled in large measure by role players hitting big shots and doing the intangibles. In the deciding game five it was broken-down Mike Miller, who could not throw a pea in the ocean, yet there he was knocking down seven 3-pointers and scoring 23 points.
In the previous games it was Shane Battier or Mario Chalmers or Udonis Haslem or Norris Cole or James Jones coming through with big plays or shots.
The Heat victory was truly a team win.