The HEAT Experience

If victory is so sweet for a fan half across the globe, how much more for the team who worked so hard to earn that championship ring? I bet it was delish.

I’m no basketball expert. I tend to notice different things in the game if you read my previous blog. I’m an outsider in the world of the NBA perennially confused about who’s who. I don’t know the difference between charging and offensive foul. One thing I know for sure, though. I love this game! I revel every time the Miami Heat wins. I’m still in good spirits when we lose because either the game was close or the opposing team was just great. I enjoy that kind of intense competition.

 

You see, my husband is a die-hard LeBron James fan. He rooted for him when he was still with Cleaveland and remained loyal when he chose to be with Miami. He was the same with Jordan, rooting for him whichever team or sport he played. I know that he’s been praying for 9 years for LeBron to win a championship. He looks at things objectively. He knows what a great athlete he is and he understands why he had to make “the decision” although he would’ve wanted that LeBron did it differently. I actually agree with him on that.

I don’t really get why people hate LeBron so much. In fact, it’s only in basketball that I saw being a “hater” as being part of a cool posse. I think it’s the most pathetic posse to be a part of. It’s like fans in general are afraid to recognize his greatness because they’ll be dubbed as sissies. It’s a “guy thing” to be part of the “hating elite.” Well, I think it’s a “gay” thing (no offense to my gay friends whom I love), a glorified male version of gossip girl filled with backbiting. Being a “hater” became a bandwagon that everyone jumped into without much thought.

For us, we painfully watched the 2011 season go by without a championship. What a dark and dreary experience it was to watch LeBron hesitate to take those shots during the finals against the Dallas Mavericks after watching him carry the Heat in spectacular playoffs series against the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics. It was like watching a clone play the game for him, lost beyond recognition. Then I realized that it’s exactly what happened. He got lost. Lost his identity, his love for the game, and his drive altogether.

When the Miami Heat franchise decided to do that “celebration” I knew they were headed downhill. I remember saying, “Oh no, pride goes before destruction.” When LeBron said the infamous “not one, not two…” statement, it sealed the deal. At the back of my mind I recited a verse I kept close to my heart, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

 

God created a cosmic humble pie and gave each member of the Heat team a mouthful. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh had extra toppings of injuries. LeBron got half of that holy humble pie complete with a crunchy criticism crust filled with insult flavor. He needed that. The entire team needed that. I felt bad for my husband when they lost but I knew that God’s timing was perfect and losing was part of God’s impeccable time.

A year later and I saw something I never saw before. A change in character. We were excited to have another shot at the ring. I was more excited to see how LeBron would redeem himself. It started with a statement coming from him on how he contemplated, sought help from other people, and went back to the basics–from playing to silence his critics to simply playing because he loves the game.

His demeanor on and off the court changed, too. He was more calm and focused. He stopped tweeting. He tuned out the media. He read before games instead of playing loud hiphop music. He didn’t celebrate and made gestures after making awesome shots. During the final minutes of Game 5, Mario Chalmers was urging the fans to celebrate. LeBron called his attention, shook his head, and told him “not yet.” Very different from last year when he and Wade celebrated prematurely during Game 2 with overacting chest bumps. This time, he just went about his game, leading the Heat one possession at a time. No celebration until they deserved to do so.

God gave grace to the humble, indeed. LeBron James finally won his first championship ring along with regular season and finals MVP awards. He told the media that the best thing that happened to him last year was “losing the finals.” He said he was humbled and he needed that. He acknowledged his mistakes and learned from it.

When I prayed for the Heat to win, I prayed to God to answer it for His glory. I saw that He was glorified because He showed the world that He works in a different scheme. This world applauds the proud and mighty, God doesn’t. That’s why the Heat lost last year. God uplifts the humble. In His economy, the first is last and the last is first. I saw that first hand in the story of the Heat. Their journey to victory was filled with thorns and pain. Was it worth it? They would probably say very much. You can see it in the smile in their faces.

The long bitter road paved the way to forgiveness, humility, and change. Heat President Pat Riley said after the championship revelry, “forgive us for the decision, forgive us for the celebration, forgive us for saying not one, not two.”

I thank God for allowing me to see this team grow. It made the victory more significant because it was won not out of vengeance but out of a humbled team. Last year LeBron tweeted, “The Greater Man upstairs know when it’s my time. Right now isn’t the time.” This year, let me tell you this, LeBron: The Greater Man upstairs knew it was your time to be lifted because you humbled yourself. 

The Heat experience for me is more than just a fan’s journey to winning a championship. It’s an opportunity to witness the character transformation of the player we root for. It’s an opportunity to see God’s principles at work even in the world of sports. It’s an opportunity to watch my team change and mature on and off the court. And oh, what a sweet experience that was. 🙂