SAN ANTONIO – The trek from the court back to the visitors’ dressing room at the AT&T Center is longer than most in the NBA. It requires Spurs opponents to slip through the tunnel at one end and then head down, beneath the stands, almost to the other end. A basic salt-and-pepper, industrial-strength mat shows them the way, behind a little iron railing.
On nights like Sunday, in the moments after their Game 5 elimination from The 2014 Finals, it’s way more perp walk than red carpet.
One by one, the Heat players, coaches and staff trod along that path, San Antonio’s on-court celebration revving up and booming through the building. LeBron James walked fast, head high, a phalanx of cameras and reporters tracking each step. Dwyane Wade came a few beats later, bare-chested, his Miami jersey gifted at some point after the final horn. They were stone-faced, revealing nothing beyond the harshness and letdown of the outcome.
Ray Allen strode by with purpose, inscrutable, deep in thoughts that surely didn’t include cheeseburgers. Then Pat Riley, looking almost wistful, resigned or ground down by the 70-point differential between his team and the Spurs (the fattest cumulative margin in Finals history). Chris Bosh paused, turned and shook hands with Heat assistant Bob McAdoo. Shane Battier spied a friend, smiled briefly and pantomimed a golf swing, a sign of his impending retirement.
None of them looked happy, obviously. None of them, however, was brought to his knees.
That, after all, is social media’s job, along with the rest of this what-have-you-done-for-me-five-minutes-from-now culture. It musters no patience, offers no comfort and certainly treats nothing sacred, particularly with this team, whose critics outnumber its fans 10-to-1, maybe 100-to-1.
However unceremonious its march into the offseason, Miami had wrapped up four consecutive trips to The Finals. The first, against Dallas in 2011, brought hard lessons and a little humility. The next two produced Larry O’Brien trophies, just like they all had pictured it. This one, three straight beatdowns still hanging in the air, had been telegraphed by slippage in the Heat’s defensive ranks and the loss (via amnesty) of Mike Miller from last year’s team.
This one carried with it some payback from the Spurs, who had been on the other side last June,and it naturally brought a skidload of questions, speculation and uncertainty.
Because this was the Heat and that’s how they roll.
So, Erik Spoelstra, have you guys underachieved? That’s how it went and that’s how it will go for days and weeks and months, now that the ol’ smoke-and-lasers pep rally back of July 2010 (“Not one, not two, not three…”) officially has stopped at two, at least temporarily.
Spoelstra referred to it as “the exaggeration that’s out there.”
“Even as painful as it feels right now, you have to have perspective,” the Heat coach said. “Even the team we’re playing against has never been to the Finals four straight years. You can’t be jaded enough not to appreciate that.”
Wanna bet? Only two other franchises – Boston and the Minneapolis/L.A. Lakers – ever had made it to four Finals in a row. But this was supposed to be about rings, not runners-up. It’s the life they chose, once James, Wade and Bosh conspired to sign with Miami four years ago and gild their resumes through a strength-in-superstar-numbers approach. (more…)