Before the NBA Finals began, during an appearance on WWRL Radio, this writer picked the Dallas Mavericks to defeat the Miami Heat in six games. Subsequent contentious debates ensued with smart basketball observers who were certain the Heat would prevail. Those folks had been seduced and hoodwinked by Miami’s dominating performances in their three previous series wins.
During their romp to the finals, the Heat had not faced a complete team. The Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls were all flawed, particularly offensively. In contrast, the Mavericks were a dangerous offensive group with one of the game’s most lethal scorers in the virtually unstoppable Dirk Nowitzki, as well as a robust defensive contingent. Their diverse ability to score, coupled with a coaching advantage–which these eyes strongly believed Rick Carlisle, 51, a native of Ogdensburg, N.Y., held over his counterpart, the Heat’s 40-year-old head coach Erik Spoelstra–would be the determining factors in the Mavericks becoming champions.
But one variable that wasn’t considered was LeBron James devolving at the most important juncture of his career. This was to be James’ moment, his seminal opportunity to affirm that he was indisputably one of the best ever, of any era, at the tender age of 26.
He was expected to be superior to everyone on the court with him, as he was against the Sixers, Celtics and Bulls. Engrave an indelible, positive imprint on the finals, he didn’t, resulting in a tenfold increase in criticism and dislike for the erstwhile king.
Inexplicably, James was reluctant to be the lethal scorer he has been his entire basketball life. His performances vacillated between indecisiveness and indifference. James desired to mirror Magic Johnson and not Michael Jordan, a mindset that was detrimental to his team. Magic is an all-time great, but he wasn’t a player who grabbed a game by the throat by scoring 20 points in a quarter. That’s what the Heat needed from James: for him to impose his remarkable talent to rip off points in bunches, especially in the fourth quarter, to snatch the heart out of the resilient, determined Mavericks. It never happened.
On the contrary, James and his running buddy Dwyane Wade allowed the Mavericks’ Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson, good but lesser players for sure, to adversely tug at their psyches and sensibilities, and at key moments outplay them. The rest is history.