A somber Kobe Bryant sat before the media after the conclusion of the 2008 NBA Finals. He’d been at the cusp of attaining a championship title four times prior to then, being successful three out of those four times. This being the fifth, it felt a little different. The blame of the Lakers catastrophic defeat in Game 6 of the Finals to the Celtics fell solely on Bryant’s broad shoulders.
The Lakers season came to a sudden halt after a summer rant in which Bryant demanded the front office ship Andrew Bynum out of town, a successful mid-season move to bring in an All-Star 7-footer to fill the void after the Bynum went down with injury, a Most Valuable Player campaign and then the terrible realization that it takes more than just a fancy offense to win a title. Everything has to work on all cylinders—offense, defense, chemistry and above-all mental stability.
That didn’t bother Bryant, because he was comfortable with the pressure. Nobody ever wants to lose, but there was a lesson to be learned in the Lakers’ case.
It’s something that the Lakers, aside from Bryant and Derek Fisher had yet to understand, but at that point they were still a young team. The journey towards a title isn’t easy and it’s hardly predictable. The issue with the Miami Heat is that even before the opening tip of the 2010-11 NBA season, they themselves announced to the world that they were the team to beat. Forget the defending NBA champions, forget the team that came as close as they could possibly get to beating the Lakers in the 2010 Finals or any other team for that matter.
About a year and a month shy to the date of the Heat’s pre-season pep rally, I could still recall LeBron James numbering off the amount of titles the Heat was destined to win. Not one, not two, certainly not three, four, five or six, the sky was the limit. Now the only thing James is left to count are the days left for the next season to start—whenever that may be. The amount of time he’d have to wait to get the bitter taste of defeat out of his mouth.
The Heat have all the talent they need to make it to the Finals, but getting there doesn’t always happen and winning is never guaranteed. Bryant knows that perhaps better than anyone.