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This story was written by CBSSports.com senior writer Ken Berger
Those last few words, said in an interview with NBC Sports, will resonate and hang over James all season, the way Jordan’s legacy has hovered over the first seven years of his career. Clearly, I am not alone in believing that James broke ranks in a legacy-damaging way by teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh instead of trying to go through them in the eternal struggle for championships that the great players have always faced.
“Mike and I are in 100 percent agreement on this,” Charles Barkley told the Arizona Republic this week. “If you’re the two-time defending NBA MVP, you don’t leave anywhere. They come to you. That’s ridiculous. I like LeBron. He’s a great player. But I don’t think in the history of sports you can find a two-time defending MVP leaving to go play with other people.”
Disappointment from their elders is only part of the backlash James and Wade — more so than Bosh — will face as they embark on their magical mystery tour. The other is that the Heat will be a bull’s-eye for criticism, and easy for the competition to root against. This is something Wade addressed in an article published Sunday by AOL Fanhouse — one in which he made an unfortunate comparison between the Heat losing a couple of games in a row and the collapse of the World Trade Center.
“We enjoy the bull’s-eye,” Wade said. “Plus, there’s going to be times when we lose 2-3 games in a row, and it seems like the world has crashed down. You all are going to make it seem like the World Trade is coming down again, but it’s not going to be nothing but a couple basketball games.”
I have to assume that Wade didn’t intend to equate losing basketball games to a murderous act of war against innocent civilians, but these are the kind of tone-deaf quotes you get sometimes in sports. And you get them in any era. It was Jordan, remember, who came across as a shameless, out-of-touch shoe salesman when he explained not endorsing a black Democrat for U.S. Senate in his home state of North Carolina by saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”
The point Wade was trying to make, I think — and one he made poorly — is that anything less than a championship for the Heat will be considered a failure. Along those lines, several GMs and personnel people I spoke with during Las Vegas Summer League aren’t convinced that the Larry O’Brien Trophy should be shipped to South Beach just yet.
“The Lakers are still the better team,” one executive said. “The question is, how are those guys [in Miami] going to fit together?”
Wade himself has acknowledged that the Lakers are still the team to beat, which is the only respectful way to go about it. The two-time defending champions are the two-time defending champions until somebody changes that. Personnel people digesting the impact of the Heat’s Big Three, and the supporting cast assembled around them so far, shared two overriding opinions: 1) As difficult as it was for Tom Thibodeau to create a defensive scheme to combat LeBron or Wade while serving as the Celtics’ defensive architect in Boston, it’s going to be infinitely more difficult to stop both of them; and 2) As impressive as some of Miami’s complementary signings have been, the pressure on the supporting cast to deliver — which all championship supporting casts must do — will be immense.
What if the Heat need Joel Anthony to knock down a couple of free throws in the final seconds of a road playoff game? What if they need Mike Miller to hit a contested 3-pointer from the corner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston or Orlando?
“Mike Miller has never played in a game like that,” one of the personnel execs said.
But in the end, the pressure will fall on the shoulders of Wade and James. How evenly they share the responsibility and the glory remains to be seen.
As for Jordan, he couldn’t have summed up my feelings any better when it comes to the Miami Big Three — the Dream Team or the Scheme Team, depending on your perspective. One executive scouting Summer League games told me he hadn’t heard Jordan utter those words about Bird and Magic, but he didn’t need to.
“When I brought the subject up, he was just typing on his Blackberry,” the executive said. “And he was just shaking his head; you know, like when you’re disappointed? He didn’t say anything. He was just pecking away on his Blackberry.”
He didn’t say anything because he didn’t have to.
“Exactly,” the executive said.
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