Hall of Fame: Class of 2021
The abdominal strain that sparked Heat’s Big 3
Chris Bosh turned injury into motivation during the 2012 playoffs to propel Miami's 'Big 3' dynasty.
Nick Kairys, for NBA.com
Like many times before, a sea of Miami Heat fans rained cheers down on Chris Bosh. In this moment, he didn’t see the applause, nor could he catch his teammates’ fist pumps, or even the camera zooming closer to his head as it leaned against the second “M” of “Miami” stamped along the baseline.
It was Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat.
Seconds before the ovation, Bosh set a high ball screen for teammate LeBron James with 1:11 remaining in the 2nd quarter. With the Heat trailing by nine, James drove toward the basket, drew help and kicked out to Bosh. He pumped, made Pacers big man Roy Hibbert commit, slipped into the lane and soared toward the basket.
Bosh’s slam counted, an and-1 on Hibbert, but something was off. As teammate Mike Miller jogged over to ask, “You good? You good?” Bosh felt the twinge in his body.
Diagnosed with an abdominal strain, Bosh would miss the rest of the Eastern Conference semifinals because of the injury.
Bosh, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, was under the spotlight early in his career. The former Toronto Raptors centerpiece was subject to criticism. Some believed, sure, he was a star. But he didn’t have what it took to get out of the first round on his own. Then came “The Decision” in 2010 with he, James and Dwyane Wade joining forces in Miami.
Along with it followed the “Bosh Spice” jabs on ESPN’s “First Take,” the Twitter trolls, the endless internet memes and the basketball world opining on how he’d always play third fiddle. Add this serious injury in a critical playoff run and Bosh wasn’t going to catch a break from the public.
What came next was a back-and-forth hypothesis of what the Heat could or could not accomplish without Bosh, the versatile missing piece to Miami’s “Big 3.” A media circus ensued and his health status was a daily headline.
History shows Miami ousted Indiana in six games, but for Bosh, the story was much more complex than that.
After the Pacers series, he talked with then-ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh:
“I watch the team now like I’m on the outside looking in,” Bosh said. “You become disconnected.”
“It is weird and very, very difficult,” Bosh said. “I realize how disconnected I’ve been and have to be. Since I’ve been hurt, it’s OK, well, they’re on the road, they’re in shootaround, they’re practicing. And I have to rehab. It’s a hell of a process.”
“I’m an easy target,” Bosh said. “I’m not as boisterous and flamboyant as other players. I don’t jump as high and I’m not as fast as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. I don’t have many highlight plays, but I can play this game.”
“I’ve always known I’ve been a very good basketball player,” Bosh says. “I never needed reassurance from any outside group to know that. I don’t regret it all, because that’s who I am. I’m an easy target. If people don’t like it, I don’t really care. People can say what they want, but it’s helped me develop thick skin. I really don’t care anymore.”
“I’m just hoping there’s a chance that I get back,” Bosh said. “All I think about is when I’m back out there, because it’s going to happen.”
The injury brought him to a dark place before the Eastern Conference finals matchup against the Boston Celtics. He needed a pep talk from his wife, Adrienne, to hold his spirits high.
”I thought it was over,” Bosh said in a 2012 interview with The Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds.
”I didn’t want to fully emotionally invest myself anymore because I didn’t want to get hurt like last year when we lost The Finals. I kind of had a letdown. I’m not going to lie. I was defeated. And then my wife came to me and said, ‘You know, you said things were going to look bad, but you have to keep going.”’
One could argue — in a vacuum — Bosh’s absence improved the Heat. James took his game to new heights with an unabashed aggressiveness to score and rebound. Shane Battier emerged as an integral piece on both ends. Miller played an important role on the perimeter.
After coach Erik Spoelstra deflected questions all series, he announced Bosh’s return for Game 5 of the 2012 East finals. Bosh played just 14 minutes off the bench and scored nine points in Miami’s 94-90 loss. He played 28 minutes and scored seven points in a 98-79 Game 6 romp, clearly working his way back.
In Game 7, Bosh proved to doubters his presence was necessary. He erupted.
Rebound, put-back. Good.
Dribble, pull-up. Good.
Straight away from the top. Good.
Catch-and-shoot jumpers from the corner. Good.
Floater in the key. Good.
Bosh, again a reserve, finished with 19 points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes. He was nearly flawless, going 8-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from deep. Available and respected, he was back where he belonged. He helped push Miami past Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the Celtics and into The Finals.
Before Game 1 of The Finals vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bosh joked he wasn’t quite 100%, but it wouldn’t matter where his health meter stood. The Heat dominated the Thunder and Bosh — a starter again after Game 2 of the series — dominated as well, averaging 14.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg and 1.2 bpg.
During the on-court trophy presentation, the late Stuart Scott asked Bosh two things:
Every NBA player dreams of winning the NBA championship. How does the dream compare to the reality?
“The reality is a lot better, but you know what, all those times we were working hard in the gym, working hard together, suffering through everything together… it was all worth it.”
You were perceived — as sometimes — the forgotten member of the Big 3. What do you think your biggest contribution to this team has been over the last couple years?
“Just rebounding, scoring when I can. I know what I can do. This city and my teammates, they’ve supported me all along. We came here to win a championship. We came here to win a championship and we got it done.”
The rest is, again, history. In 2013, Bosh remained a part of the three-headed monster that brought the Heat their second straight NBA title.
It was his rebound and pass to Ray Allen that set up the historic game-tying shot against the Spurs in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. And, lest we forget, he was an All-Star in each of his six seasons with Miami.
Bosh stayed true to the Heat and played the rest of his career there until retiring in 2017 due to blood clot complications.
Let’s not forget Bosh’s monumental impact on the Heat, and everything it took for him to battle back from a pesky abdominal strain in a bleak situation. If there’s no Bosh, there’s no telling what could have happened in Heat history.
Bosh’s red and white No. 1 is retired in Miami and is also etched in HOF royalty. Where it belongs.