For all the flexing and preening, the third-person proclamations and South Beach parties, LeBron James(notes) finally delivered these Miami Heat something pure and authentic in the privacy of the locker room: Full of emotion, he apologized for his big-shot, big-games failures and promised redemption.
“I told my team I'm not going to continue to fail them late in games,” James told reporters in Miami. “I put a lot of the blame on myself.”
James has used the words “fail” and “blame” a lot of times, but seldom in context of his own performances. His idea of accountability has always been his cronies and him nudging you in the direction of the guilty parties – his coach, GM, teammates – but never the global icon in the mirror.
LeBron didn’t promise to do different.
LeBron promised to do better.
He didn’t go to Miami to construct a partnership, as much as he did gather superior sidekicks. He’s going to keep trying because the solution will never be to bend to the I-told-you-sos that insist Dwyane Wade’s the closer on this Heat team. The Heat have two of the best five players in the world, and they still can’t play together when it matters most. Derrick Rose(notes) never wanted to play with James, but he welcomed the idea of Wade as his shooting guard. Wade must have some regret that he hadn’t gone home to Chicago in free agency and spared himself this most unhappy ever-after with the Heat.
It’s March, the playoffs aren’t that far away, and the Heat are still regressing. New York survives two shots out of James in the final seconds. Orlando makes a wild comeback to beat them. San Antonio blows them out. Chicago makes James miss a wild, driving shot in the final seconds. Four straight losses, and the gulf between James and Wade widens with every embarrassment.
“I’m used to coming down in the fourth, having the ball, making mistakes, getting a chance to make up for them, etc., “ Wade told reporters Sunday. “You try to do your best. That's all you can do. That was one of the things we got to understand when we all decided to come together. That there were going to be sacrifices that have to be made. And you live with the consequences."
Yes, you live with the consequences. Wade has started to say publicly what he’s been saying privately for a long time: Why don’t I get the ball when it matters? Miami’s no longer his town, and the Heat no longer his team. Didn’t you hear James? It isn’t our team. It isn’t D-Wade’s team.
When people warned Wade about letting LeBron into his life, they wanted him to think about how he’d handle James making all the big shots, becoming the biggest star on South Beach. They never considered the possibility of what it would feel like for Wade to watch James fail over and over.
So, Wade played the victim act and reminded everyone that he never, ever wanted to join James on his Hate Me Across America Tour. “The Miami Heat are exactly what everyone wanted, losing games," Wade said. “The world is better now because the Heat is losing.”
Wade is angling for sympathy, but it doesn’t exist for him, nor these Heat. And James does nothing to ever make it easier. Before Miami embarked on this telltale stretch against contenders, James tweeted: “No friends when at WAR beside my brothers.”
These aren’t his brothers, and this is no war. The Heat trained on a military base, James signed some autographs for soldiers and he likes saluting teammates on the court. In his mind, it’s a little like storming the beaches of Normandy. Yet that’s LeBron James, and that’ll always be him. Wade can pout and play the victim and grow sharper in his rebukes of a Miami system that is slowly, surely turning him into Pippen-Lite. He shouldn’t be so despondent. After all, LeBron James tried to make himself accountable for his late-game failures. That’s progress for him. That’s historic.
He isn’t blaming his teammates.
Not yet, anyway.
Maybe James is fighting some war, but Wade lost his own when he let LeBron into his life. He was warned. He didn’t listen. Now, he ought to take his own advice and “live with the consequences.” Mostly, he should stop feeling sorry for himself. LeBron James apologized to his team on Sunday, not Dwyane Wade’s.