Posted Jun 9 2011 10:00AM
DALLAS -- He owes it to Miami, the only city that will hug him besides Akron, his hometown. He owes it to Pat Riley and Micky Arison, Miami's president and its owner who came up with the space to fit him on the roster and the cash to pay him a King's ransom.
And obviously, he owes it to himself, the person he must answer to and show that he's capable of doing what it takes to be a winner.
Mostly, LeBron James owes Dwyane Wade. Owes him big-time. He owes Wade a magnificent performance tonight and for however long these NBA Finals last.
Anything less than that, any repeat of Game 4 when LeBron vaporized like sweat on a Dallas sidewalk, and you'll wonder if a relationship built on trust and mutual admiration will suddenly bear watching, pronto, for cracks in the foundation.
Because ultimately, it's all about respect, really, when you peel away the bond these close teammates share. Wade did not push for LeBron last off-season just so they could continue a friendly dialogue and take in the sights on South Beach. In the age of social networking, they could've just texted or Tweeted back and forth an entire season from afar, and maybe went to lunch once or twice when in town. No, Wade wanted LeBron in Miami to win titles. That was always the motive, always the agenda. Let's be very clear about that. The "ship" that Wade wanted most out of this relation-ship was not friend-ship, a nice fringe benefit. Uh-uh.
For the past few games, you saw Wade play his guts out, only to watch LeBron flame-out in the most recent fourth quarter. You saw Wade slice constantly through the Dallas defense, attack the rim, wearily carry the club through tough stretches and deliver like a former Finals MVP could. And it was wasted when LeBron chose a curious time to stand in the corner and watch another late Heat lead go up in flames.
You heard Wade cover for LeBron in the postgame news conference, sticking up for the player who always sits to Wade's right in these sessions, saying how the team needs to do whatever it can to get LeBron going. When the opposite is true.
But then Wade said something Wednesday that could and should serve as fuel for LeBron the rest of this series.
"He feels he let me down," Wade said.
LeBron said he doesn't listen to criticism from the public and the media, and that's probably true to an extent. Because if LeBron absorbed all that abuse, he'd be on medication right now. But he does listen to Wade. He takes what Wade says to heart. And according to sources, Wade had plenty to say to LeBron in the locker room following the game, and then again into the wee hours of the next morning.
"I had a similar conversation with him in the Chicago series," Wade said. "We just talked about the moment more than anything. We talked about the situation and the opportunity we have, you know?"
What Wade told LeBron, in so many words, is not to take this appearance in The Finals for granted, that to assume if Miami loses, there would be more trips in the future. It doesn't always work that way. Even if the Heat does return to the championship round, winning is hardly guaranteed. So much can happen: Injuries (Wade seems especially vulnerable), a weakened supporting cast, or the other team getting hot at the right time. Like Dallas.
It's true that in the Eastern Conference finals, the roles were reversed. LeBron did the heavy lifting against the Bulls and Wade was trapped in a funk. When that happened, Wade didn't catch nearly as much flak as LeBron did in Game 4, only because of the double standard for LeBron. When Wade struggled against the Bulls, here's what everyone wondered: is he hurt?
But at least Wade tried. There's a difference between shooting 5-for-21 and having a poor offensive night, and taking one shot in the fourth quarter, as LeBron did in Game 4. Wade didn't deliver in a big way against the Bulls because he never got it going. LeBron didn't deliver in Game 4 because he never bothered to get it going.
Also: Wade struggled in the conference finals, not the championship series. That's the ultimate stage where reputations, both good and bad, are formed and crystallized.
LeBron said all the right things Wednesday, about being accountable for his invisibility, about pledging to be more assertive for Game 5. And he probably will.
"I'll just be hard on myself and figure out a way to do better," James said. "I criticized myself. I was hard on myself. I've got to do a better job of helping this team win basketball games, especially late, whatever it takes. If this was the Super Bowl, one game, I'd be kicking myself in the foot."
If he can't do it for himself, he needs to do it for Wade, the player who put LeBron in position to finally claim a title. Wade has had to endure issues this season that he never faced before, all because of LeBron: the hate, the rude receptions from arenas all across the NBA. Wade has been guilty by association, caught in the crossfire between an annoyed public and LeBron.
Through it all, Wade sided with LeBron, eagerly and often, defending him, doing whatever it took to ensure that LeBron didn't have to face the music alone. Even when they appear together in press conference, that's more for LeBron's benefit than Wade's.
So LeBron owes him one. Make that two, since that's what it'll take to seal the deal in a series that's tied 2-2. This goes beyond a friendship and a relationship. This is about championship and in order to repay Wade, LeBron knows he must get his ship together.
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