A Man For All Seasons: Chris Bosh Was Everything And Anything He Needed To Be, But He Was Always True To Himself
Bosh Enters The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
Chris Bosh shouldn’t be going into the Hall of Fame this weekend. He should be in the game, easing into the final stages of a career approaching 20 seasons and 15 All-Star appearances to go with (at least) a pair of rings. He should still be the working paragon of the switchable, floor-spacing, rim-running, spoke-in-the-wheel center archetype he helped create.
Instead, we haven’t seen him on the court in five years, blood clots having robbed him off an exceedingly obvious Hall of Fame case. The game ripped away from him in the middle of his prime at 31 years-old, Bosh’s unplanned exit left us with a clear but in-need-of-explanation enshrinement case that in a backwards, twisted way might suit his journey even more appropriately. No matter how many times Erik Spoelstra offered up a “Most Important Player” label Bosh always required a little elucidation specifically because he chose the less-obvious path.
It may sound anachronistic to say Bosh chose the more difficult path back in 2010, crafting a contender out of free agency when we have since spent a decade watching one great team after another created in the images of the players creating them. Such was the landscape back before Thor and Captain America had ever produced a big-screen dollar. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had their own monkeys to shake, demons to defeat and expectations to meet, but at the very least their greatness remained casually observable. In transitioning from a 24 points-per-game centerpiece to an 18 per-game third option, the numbers going down as just as his name was growing in household renown, Bosh became someone who needed to be appreciated. And if you have to explain the art you’ve already lost part of the (widely antagonistic, at the time) audience.
No games better illustrated how much Bosh sacrificed than the nights when Wade and/or James wore suits. Starting alongside Mario Chalmers, James Jones, Shane Battier and Joel Anthony at Atlanta in 2012, Bosh scored 33 points on a career-high 27 shots, hitting the game-tying three to force the first of three overtimes. Terrel Harris played 44 minutes. A season later, Bosh drained a three to take the lead in the final seconds at San Antonio, scoring 23 in an 88-point game. With James out at Portland the next Christmas, Bosh nearly touched his career-high with 37 points and another clutch triple, this one off a what-are-you-doi-ok-cool blind pass from Wade. Miami won all those games and so many others because Bosh could so fluidly toggle between roles and requirements. In four years, Miami was 40-18 when Bosh played and one of James or Wade sat out. When both were out, Bosh crews were 3-1. It was never that he wasn’t the same player he was in Toronto. He got better, he just played a different game.
That so many of his big shots were threes was a happy accident, of sorts. After straining his abdominal muscle early in the second round against the Pacers, the HEAT appeared to be high-and-dry after falling behind 2-1 as they searched for optimal lineups. But while Spoelstra tinkered his way into a small-ball lineup that would come to define the immediate future of the team and James and Wade led an incredible charge into the Conference Finals, Bosh applied the why-not-take-a-step-back line of reasoning to his offensive game that would become a common refrain among the league’s big men. When Bosh returned, an overnight center, as Miami fought from a deficit to Boston, it was a pair of corner threes down the stretch of Game 7 which turned the tide.
“The make‑up of this team is a little different,” Bosh said after that game. “And I knew where things were changing where I could help this team out. I know the stigmas and the criticisms that are out there. That's not going to help you win basketball games. Dedication and belief in yourself is going to help you win basketball games.
“I didn't give it much time for people to see it coming. It just kind of happened very quickly. It's been a good shot for me. As long as I'm open and whenever it's needed, I know I can go inside. But LeBron and Dwyane have it going so well, they need somebody to space the floor. I was put in that situation, and I told myself I was going to do the best job I possibly can to bring that to this team.”
Big men were not supposed to shoot threes. Unless you came into the league as a fully-formed unicorn, few knowing you as anything other than the rare seven-foot shooter, you focused on the paint. Go get a double-double. Post-up. Dunk and block some shots. That’s what the thinking was even ten years ago, during the bronze age of analysis and commentary (sounds a little mean, but a lot has changed in a decade). Bosh was never that, nor was that what the team needed. The criticism was harsh, relentless and often plain cruel. He never wavered, choosing the opposite, modern direction. The bet, however subconsciously made, was that the future would look kindly upon the decisions he made in the present.
The game may have changed with or without Bosh, but every revolution needs its revolutionaries. He was willing to be the change when it wasn’t popular.
It’s perfectly fitting that the player who joined Miami as a leading scorer left his most indelible playoff moments with non-scoring plays to extend a championship swing in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Not every shot at immortality is a shot, ball in your hands with a title on the line and the clock ticking down. For Bosh it was a ball in the air, Danny Green on one side, Manu Ginobili on the other. Grab it, let Ray Allen be the hero, then go and block a pair of pivotal shots while you’re at it.
That’s Bosh. The Great Enabler. Whatever you wanted to do, he could make it possible. Spacing, passing and poise on one end, speed and length on the other. Everything the HEAT became, a Top 10 team on both ends of the court for four years running, they became because they had Bosh.
The game-that-you-think-of-first game, from this slightly warped perspective, for this Hall of Famer looks like one of his worst. Seven rebounds. Two assists. Five fouls. Zero points. Out of 89 career playoff games, Bosh’s -2.1 GameScore (per basketball-reference.com) was his lowest. It all happened in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, days after the legendary rebound.
And the HEAT don’t win that game without Bosh.
"I think that's the proudest moment of my career," Bosh told reporters the following year.
In the first half of Game 6, Tim Duncan could not be stopped. Outside of a few missed team rotations – the HEAT were still flying around Omega Swarm’ing the ball in those days – the defense wasn’t particularly at fault. Bosh, Chris Andersen and Battier all took turns on Duncan in the post, keeping a wide base and getting into the Hall of Famer’s hips. None of it mattered. Duncan finished the half 11-of-13 for 25 points, at one point scoring on four consecutive post-ups. In the latter stages of Duncan’s career, it was as good a stretch as he’s had.
All those makes dried up in the second half. Bosh stayed low, stayed wide and got tall when he needed to, consistently pushing Duncan off his base as he went 2-of-8 in the second half and overtime. The war continued into the final game of the series.
It wasn’t so much that Bosh missed shots that depressed his scoring. Like so much of his HEAT career, the shots weren’t his to take. James and Wade combined for 44 attempts from the field, more than half of Miami’s total. Bosh took five, the most extreme endpoint of his sacrificial role.
"I had a clarifying moment," Bosh said. "I didn't score and everybody kept saying, 'Don't worry about it, you're going to score.' I was like, 'Dude, I'm fine.' I figured that I'm probably not going to get the ball and get a bucket. Dwyane and LeBron, they had it going the whole game."
Duncan still got his, putting a handful of fouls on Bosh that had him on the bench for a first-half stretch. Between the fouls and the lack of touches, everything was set up for Bosh to have a forgettable night. Instead, he was brilliant. Bosh swarmed the ball, protected the rim and edged out a victory over Duncan with one stonewall after another.
Maybe three years spent channeling his obvious talents into the margins helped him get to that point, to be great on a night when nothing was going his way. Few players were as self-aware as Bosh. In joining Miami he had recognized his own limitations, and those of his circumstance, as a lead player. In that Game 7, he found the things he could contribute to winning rather than search out ways to make his look better in retrospect – happy to again be the player to be explained. Always one to take responsibility for a poor effort with the media – he was always just as interesting after a loss than a win, generous with his time even as he met the occasional perplexing question with his own look of perplexion – Bosh was accountable for what he could control.
Is that what makes Chris Bosh a Hall of Famer? No, 11 All-Star appearances and two titles – with an Olympic gold medal – is all you need on that particular job application. He was always a deserving and rightful lock. Bosh’s capacity to be anything to everyone whenever called upon, to be a winner whether scoring 30 or 0, is what made him great.
It was a brand of greatness which required a little spilled ink to derive proper appreciation in the era in which is happened. Becoming a Hall of Famer means never having to explain yourself. A career stolen away by the cruel gods of the game finds the Valhalla it was always meant for, both years too soon and, as a second-ballot vote, a year too late.