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Ball Don't Lie

Erik Spoelstra gave the Miami Heat a replica championship trophy before the playoffs

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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Erik Spoelstra likes the real thing even better. (Getty Images)

Sometimes, visualizing your goals is the key to achieving them. Want to keep those legs pumping as you finish that morning jog? Envision yourself crossing the finish line and convince yourself that it's just another few steps from your grasp. Want to have the universe give you all the things you want in your life? Um, do The Secret, I think? Want to win an NBA championship? Make a replica of the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy and keep it in your locker room so that your players do not forget what they are working toward.

At least, that's what Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did. And it seemed to work out pretty well for him. From Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

[...] The day before the playoffs started, Spoelstra presented his players with a replica of the Larry O'Brien Trophy, the prize for winning an NBA championship.

Molded rubber and black in color, the symbol served as a pact between the team throughout the postseason.

Each player signed the trophy, promising to play together as a team to reach the Heat's ultimate goal.

"Nobody, not even Pat knew about it," said LeBron James, the Finals MVP. "[Spoelstra] wanted to keep it between us. It was a testament to one another and didn't have anything to do with anyone else. It helped you refocus and let you know why you were here and playing for one another."

In addition to the players' signatures and jersey numbers, written in gold on the black rubber, the replica trophy also featured words and phrases described by Miami players and coaches as team touchstones — stuff like "all in," "together," "toughness" and "trust." At difficult junctures of Miami's postseason run — which you'd assume would include the aftermath of their Game 3 loss to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals and their mid-Eastern Conference finals three-game losing streak to the Boston Celtics (the first time the Heat had dropped three straight since Jan. 10-13, 2012) — Spoelstra used the symbol, and the values printed on it, as both a rallying cry and a reminder of Miami's basic principles.

"We signed our names to guarantee we would bring those things to the table," Spoelstra told Goodman. "And when we weren't, that trophy would come out and we would remind ourselves we signed our name and were not being true to that."

After each Heat win, a player would reportedly carve a small notch into the trophy. When the 16th notch was carved after Miami's Game 5 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to Heat star Dwyane Wade, "everybody started screaming and yelling."

What might seem to you and me like a relatively small symbolic gesture apparently had a major motivational impact on a number of Heat players, including Wade — the MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals and one of two members of the Miami roster, along with reserve forward Udonis Haslem, who owned a championship ring before this season — who told Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press that the replica trophy was "something we had together."

"All the things that it said, that was our motto as a team," Wade said.

It also seems to have meant a lot to Chris Bosh — although, to be fair, he might have just been operating under fear of litigation:

"It's kind of heavy," Bosh said. "When you write your name on something, it's officially a contract. I kept respect for that because we understood how serious it was."

Hey, if the threat of prosecution produces 15 points, nine boards and a block per night in the Finals, to go with some of the most active defense of Bosh's career, then maybe Spoelstra should make him sign more stuff.

People outside the Heat locker room — especially us cynical writer types — might get our eyes to rollin' when hearing Spoelstra talk about the overarching significance of the trophy, the "covenant that we made to each other," and all that kind of stuff. But hearing those kind of comments from James, Wade and Bosh — knowing that Spoelstra got sort of a buy-in from his three signature stars — seem to offer a pretty stout rejoinder to the jokes about his predilection toward cliches.

Whether or not other people think the repeated references to Miami "playing to our identity," remembering "our truth" and shutting out that dreaded external "noise" ultimately signify nothing, they sure seem to mean something to the Heat, and their belief in that talk — and, apparently, a big hunk of black molded rubber — just earned them all a nice new piece of jewelry.

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