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LeBron James’ Miami Heat: A case study in burning out

The Dubs' easy snuffing of Heat earlier this week serves as a stunning reminder of the true fragility of the modern NBA dynasty. A deep-dive trip down memory lane.

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Miami Heat v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors are the proverbial hammer to the nail that is the NBA. The Dubs could even be described as the sweeping rain to the League’s weekend picnic plans. I might even go as far as to opine that the champs are the boot to the basketball world’s, dare I say, buttocks?

Currently, we are in Year Four of the Splash Era: a rollicking jamboree of hoop brilliance marked by unselfish sacrifice and the historically brutal devastation of all enemies. Even still, there is an unanswerable question that lingers over the franchise: how is all of this going to end?

Great scholars perpetually examine the rise and falls of great dynasties, looking for clues as to predict the fates of current and future world powers. The NBA is no different, as many great basketball minds (and moronic YouTube commenters) compare and contrast the powerful franchises of years gone by to the current Golden Era.

Following the aftermath of the Warriors boring slog of a blowout victory over the Miami Heat last night, I too began to ponder both past and future. The Heat, not too long ago, also had a four year span that envenomated fear and distress into the league. Those black jerseys used to represent an ominous, devastating force that terrorized the NBA. Last night, those same jerseys looked like funeral attire for Hassan Whiteside as the Warriors broke his spirit and forced their coach to bench him.

In 2010, didn’t it feel like like the Heat were ready to put the league into a strangehold for at LEAST a decade?

“We Already Won”: Heat truly begin the Super Villians era

Unfortunately for the Heat, the world has decided they're evil, leaving LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Co. no course but to show...they really are bad to the bone.

St. Louis Dispatch, October 2010

There are some human beings who feel that the entire Warriors organization is cocky. They believe the Dubs and their fans are arrogant, whiny, and classless, personified by 2x MVP Stephen Curry. Fortunately for the Golden Empire, we know that what losers think and say is irrelevant. Hilariously, the champs threw a picnic to celebrate the bitter panic they sent basketball into.

Gang Gang Gang @javalemcgee @stephencurry30 @klaythompson @andre @andersonvarejao18 @pmccaw0 #KD @zazapachulia

A post shared by Draymond Green (@money23green) on

The angry mob of couch potatoes and talking heads also had similar sentiments about the Miami Heat during their hot run not too long ago. Although, going back to the crybaby insult, the Heat were literally crying.


But let’s continue with the arrogant part and classless part.

In the summer of 2010, Miami Heat president and shadowy basketball mystic Pat Riley pulled a monster coup. He seduced Lebron James into rocking the basketball world with his “Decision” to abandon his hometown of Cleveland to join forces with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami. James was feeling so good he even boasted a goal of bringing, like, seven championships to Miami and joked that it would be “easy”. I remember after it happened, I called my old college roommate Julian (a die-hard Heat disciple, born and raised in Dade County), and asked him how it felt to go from a non-factor to a contender overnight.

His response included a lot of jubilant hollering, celebratory expletives, and this video being inboxed to me via Facebook chat.

The unmitigated hubris! I was shocked, annoyed, and slightly terrified after viewing this hastily edited Flo Rida video. It only got worse from there.

The ominous, Halloween slasher movie music the NBA media folks slid beneath the footage certainly brings you back to how much they were feared.

More annoying cockiness:

  • Who can forget LeBron James giddily celebrating (prematurely) in the 4th quarter of a Finals game as Wade tried to keep his icy, “been there before” demeanor before cracking into a boyish grin? (The Heat would eventually blow the 15 point lead and the series).
  • Or how about James and Wade mocking eventual Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, who was battling a bad cough the game before the Heat were eliminated?
  • This was capped off with this super hilarious, post-Finals defeat, podium interview where James insinuated (and i’m guesstimating this mightily) that his detractors were losers.


Decisions, decisions

Noted journalist and shouter Stephen A. Smith didn’t like the way LeBron James handled his departure from Cleveland to Miami. Mr. Smith also challenged Kevin Durant’s courage for joining the Warriors after they broke the Oklahoma City Thunder for the rest of eternity. Anytime Stephen A. Smith is railing on a superstar who traded teams for being thin skinned, I would estimate there’s at least 20 million people who share his sentiment.

Both LeBron James and Kevin Durant were publicly ridiculed for being former MVP’s who abandoned their previous franchises after coming up short in the playoffs. Both players had their jerseys burned, and many self-righteous pundits emerged from the shadows to psychoanalyze their manhood.

Then they both won Finals MVP with their new teams and stuck hot daggers into their haters’ skulls. Funny enough, they both won their first titles against EACH OTHER (James’ Heat vs Durant’s Thunder in 2012, Durant’s Warriors vs James’ Cavs in 2017).

Small ball tactics perfected

With an up-tempo vision in place and a roster filled with players who could fill any of the positions from 1 to 4, the Heat wanted to be unconventional and deploy lineups that may not have a traditional center. Everything began to come into place. The elderly, lumbering centers of last season were gone.

"We don't have Dwight Howard," Riley said. "We don't have an 18-rebound guy. We don't have a 7-foot-2-inch guy who's going to take care of that stuff. Playing bigger and thinking bigger is trying something new.”

ESPN, December 2011

If you feel annoyed by Charles Barkley’s repeated disrespect toward the Warriors small-ball approach, don’t feel too upset. The Miami Heat got plenty of that when they decided to seek position-less basketball almost a decade ago.

After choking away the 2011 Finals to the underdog Dallas Mavericks, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went to Oregon Ducks college football head coach Chip Kelly to study his up-tempo, spread offense attack that was shredding the NCAA.

The knowledge he brought back to Master Pat Riley was a revelation that changed the fortunes for the franchise.

After adding Shane Battier and drafting Norris Cole, Pat Riley said he envisioned the team he put together having one of the most versatile lineups in the league, able to play small or big but always with the floor well-spaced with shooters., September 2012

Funny that Spoelstra needed to go all the way to Oregon to figure out how to play fast when Warriors guru Don Nelson had already invented it decades before.

—Daniel Hardee of GSoM, Just Now

Anyways, how good was the Heat small ball line up? Let’s compare it to the Warriors lineup known as: “Death.”

Nerd out with me and check out the ADVANCED METRICS for both the Warriors Death Lineup net rating for last season with their 67-15 record and the 2012-2013 Heat’s small ball lineup net rating during their 66-16 season. That year, the Heat had their monster 27 game win streak, the second longest such streak in NBA history.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green lineup

  • Offensive Rating: 122.4
  • Defensive rating: 98.4
  • Net Rating: 23.9

Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Shane Battier lineup

  • Offensive Rating: 117.2
  • Defensive rating: 97.5
  • Net Rating: 19.6

Wow, that’s pretty close. The Heat were able to go small without sacrificing defensive effectiveness, which is also the calling card of the Warriors.

The meeting point for two dynasties

The last year of the Miami Heat’s run preceded the Age of Splash by one season. After the San Antonio Spurs dispatched of them in five games in the 2014 Finals, the Warriors won the title the next year. The Heat vs Warriors games during the 2013-2014 season were high-octane, entertaining wars during the Heat’s maurauding quest for a three-peat. The confrontations hinted to the horrifying force that Warriors themselves were evolving into. Do yourself a favor and check ‘em out.

GSW 123-MIA 114

MIA 111-GSW 110

It looked like these teams were going to be fighting for championships for years to come. Except, the Heat fell off of the face of the earth.

Burn Out

“But sometimes you can put too much on yourself, all of us, and it becomes a black cloud around. Last year wasn’t fun. I mean, there was no stretch of it [that was] fun. That whole season, to me, it’s amazing we made it to the Finals. It’s just honest.”

Dwyane Wade to Bleacher Report, October 2014

By the end of year four, the Heat were finished. They made the finals four straight years, going back to back in the middle of that stretch. However, they were eviscerated by the Spurs in the Finals.

Wade, in speaking on how trash the current Cleveland Cavaliers are playing, made a statement that referenced what happened to those “Heatles.”

“As a team, we were kind of like this, (but) it was worse because it wasn’t new guys,” Wade said after the Cavs’ practice. “It was guys who had been around each other four years in a row. Your jokes weren’t funny any more to other guys, when you walked in it wasn’t a big smile any more. Guys were just over you. It’s like being in a bad marriage. But we somehow made it to the Finals.”


As the scrutiny and pressure mounted on the Heat year after year, injuries sapped their strength, and the locker room soured. LeBron James stunned the team following the Finals disappointment by bolting back to Cleveland, ditching Bosh, Wade, and Riley.

Soon after, Bosh was stricken with blood clots that ended his Miami Heat career. Wade later had a nasty contract dispute with Riley. He ended up leaving for a short stint in Chicago, before recently reuniting with James in Cleveland. The break up of the Big 3 era Heat was so sudden, it was almost unbelievable. Now, they claw and struggle for the 8th seed in the putrid Eastern Conference.

Seflessness protects the Warriors

It would appear that the Warriors have a foundation that is more resistant to (pettiness) erosion than that of the bygone Miami Heat championship years. Steph Curry is in the conversation for best player alive because in addition to his singular ability to erase a franchise’s dreams with nuclear scoring flurries, he is truly humble.

“How humble could he be?!,” a detractor may retort. “He just did a Crip Walk and a Harlem Shake after hitting a game winner from 46 feet in OKC!”


The humility I refer to is his understanding of selfless leadership. He was was the bargain bin contract superstar, without complaint. He allowed Durant and Nike to barge in on his MVP/Under Armour throne in Oakland, with nary any whining. He allows Coach Kerr to mold him and correct him and respectfully yields to criticism.

I feel like I had a huge hand in trying to just lead by example when it comes to exactly what the identity of what we're going to be about here, how we play, the attitude we have coming into practice, coming into the games... the gratitude and humility when it comes to understanding that you don't take winning for granted, and you have to respect the game when it comes to that.

—Curry speaking to ESPN

Curry’s graceful approach to the organization has spread like a golden magical dust that permeates the wood on the floor and even up to the banners in the rafters. When Curry’s running the show, everybody shares, and everyone eats. This is the glittering ore for “Weaponized Joy”, the power that propelled Klay Thompson and Draymond Green out of obscurity and into greatness.

It is the sparkling lure that persuaded Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant to abandon their playoff teams to join up with the man whom Iguodala in a moment of silliness compared to Jesus Christ. It’s the reason the silliness Zaza Pachulia, Nick Young, and Javale McGee bring off the court make them valued members of the locker room. This phenomenon is what the Splash Lords wield brashly at the front gate to the pantheon of the basketball gods.

For now, that is. Unforeseen injuries or corrupting personal issues can pop up at anytime and change the course of history. Basketball dominance is generally such a fleeting experience. 40 years of trash Warriors basketball after their 1975 title is recent evidence of that.

Ultimately, the basketball greatness the Heat commenced in the summer of 2010, until their abrupt disintegration in 2014, shows a cautionary tale about the transitory nature of NBA power. Warriors fans, in our heart of hearts, dread the day when we return back to earth as ultimately irrelevant in the chase for the league’s throne. Let us all hope that day doesn’t come as quickly as it did for the LeBron James Era Heat.

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