The Big Three Era is one that will live on, both famously and infamously. Some will remember the success, and some will remember it for the show that was put on when they came together. Though the words ” Not one, not two…” were merely a joke when first uttered, many of the Heat’s critics during the last four years pointed to that moment when the team did not succeed. Now that LeBron has taken his talents back to Cleveland and a new era begins, we can begin to peel back the layers of what was an extremely interesting and significant time in NBA history. Al
Before I get to the players and coach, much of this era and its success is due in large part to Pat Riley, and his humongous dreams to put together a championship contender. Riley had a vision and sold the stars that the mission of championships would be a guarantee if they bought into the idea of sacrifice. His bold attitude and history of success made the move perfect for all parties involved.
The Big Three seemed to come together like a “flash” of lightning. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh all made the decision to come together and play on one team. Three star players in their primes and the faces of their respective franchises, each sacrificing a piece of themselves to make a power move never seen before in the NBA, and possibly never seen before in sport period. Suddenly, all eyes were on South Florida and the Heat became the most hated (or envied) team in NBA history.
The 2010-11 season was the first, but maybe the most riveting season of them all, simply because it became the Miami Heat versus The World. Every night, they got their opponents best in an effort to defeat the “bought” machine. It seemed like everything was going according to the “World’s” plan, when the Heat stood at 9-8 after a disappointing loss to the Mavericks. The Heat looked out of sorts, coach Erik Spoelstra appeared in over his head, and everything seemed like it was headed down the wrong path. Then December 2, 2010 happened. That was the day the Heat went into Cleveland for LeBron James’ first game back, quite possibly the most hostile crowd maybe ever in NBA history, and they dominated. They suddenly looked in sync, and everything was, in theory, figured out. The performance in Cleveland sparked a run to the NBA Finals, that was full of ups and downs. They’d gone on to win 21 of 24, but were unable to get the upper hand on teams like Boston and Chicago, who were their main competition in the East.
When the playoffs arrived, the Heat suddenly looked like a team that had been together for years. They ran through the Sixers in four games, and defeated the Celtics and Bulls, each in five games, to reach the Finals. Things looked great for the Heat on a few occasions in the Finals. After winning Game 1, and having a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 2, The Heat seemed like they would waltz their way to a championship. As we all know, that did not happen. That can obviously be attributed to the shortcomings of James, who’d become the closer during the series with the Celtics and Bulls. During the Finals, he appeared frustrated, and completely out of sorts. It was almost as if the lights he had shined under all season, suddenly got too bright for him.
2011-12 and 2012-13 could be considered the peak of the Big Three arc, but not necessarily because they won championships in those two years. It was mainly because they got the biggest contribution from the role players during this time. Guys like Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and Chris Andersen became legends in Miami Heat lore for their parts in the greatest run in franchise history. Miller dubbed the team “The Big Three and Little 12″, which reflected the unity of the team, but also acknowledged that Wade, James, and Bosh were the driving forces. James himself rebounded quite well from the failure of 2011, as he etched in stone his place as one of the greatest players in the history of the league. He did so by winning two titles, two regular season MVP’s and two Finals MVP’s. They ran off a 27-game winning streak, the second-longest ever. It saw the Heat come to the brink of elimination multiple times, and find a way to get their backs off the wall and end up victorious. It also saw the Heat introduce small ball, which included LeBron using his skills as a power forward, creating space and mismatches all over the floor.
2013-14 was the last season the Big Three would ever be together on the same team. Even though they had been together so long, things just didn’t always feel right. Gone were guys like Miller and Joel Anthony, who were not only glue guys on the team, but fan favorites. Wade was in and out of the lineup, protecting his oft-publicized sore knees. Bosh never seemed to elevate to the level of second in command as much as he was needed. The supporting cast was older and not capable of producing heavy minutes that missing Wade required. To top it off, James seemed to be somewhat burned out at times. That could certainly be understandable when it’s considered that he’d played the equivalent of five seasons in four. Nothing ever really seemed to click this season, and the NBA Finals was the perfect example of that. They were a team that got by on the continuity of their Big Three and coaching, not on the progression as a team. Even though the loss stung, it was possibly the best thing to happen to the Heat, as it forced a much-needed change.
Just as impressive as the Heat’s maturation and development was ON-court, the OFF-court progression from Spoelstra was just as important. Before the 2010-11 season, he was viewed as a coach on the rise, leading the Heat to the first round of the playoffs. He had seemed to be in over his head dealing with the egos of not just one star, but three. During the 2010-11 season and after, he was viewed as a championship-caliber coach and one of the best in the league. His “Don’t let go of the rope” attitude and message was part of what the Heat became known for.
When this era is looked back on 15-20 years from now, it will be viewed as a big success, and monumental for the way the league will be structured. It will have reshaped our opinions on Wade, James, Bosh, Spoelstra, and even Riley. The NBA will have collectively bargained again to rid the league of the “superteam” and try to find a way to promote “parity”. There will be great players on one team. There will even be great teams, but we will NEVER see anything like the Big Three and the Heatles ever again.