Because some people just need to criticize LeBron James no matter what he does, there were ridiculous columns out about LeBron James shrinking from the spotlight after the Heat won Game 3. Questions LeBron just shot down in his press conference.
But, this situation in Miami is different than what we saw with the Lakers the past few years, when that was Kobe’s team unquestionably. It is different than the current archetype of what a championship team should look like, based on Jordan’s Bulls teams. When Jordan was the alpha dog. When the game was on the line for those teams, you knew the play was an isolation for their star and he would make things happen.
The Heat are not LeBron’s team. They are not Dwyane Wade’s team. They share the team, the spotlight, the alpha dog role. At the end of Game 3, they got together to run a pick-and-roll rather than an isolation for one of them. At other times they each have taken over at the end of games. They each have called out teammates.
They can share top billing. That was the entire point of this “big three,” so that one guy did not have to carry the load every time. That has worked out well for them, even if some fans struggle to get their arms around it.
At one point in the fourth quarter Game 3, Wade yelled at LeBron, and when Wade was asked about it this was his response (reported by our man Ira Winderman at the Sun Sentinel):
“Them guys understand. They know me. I understand them. If things are said to each other, it’s all in the better for the team. It’s all about winning. I want it. LeBron knew that. The things I was saying to him, I was saying to Chris, wasn’t nothing they wouldn’t say to me. It was something they would say to me in the Chicago series and vice versa. We have enough respect for each other… I don’t know if I got in his face, but I was just trying to do what leaders do and do what captains do. Step up and say what you feel at that point in order.”
Wade is telling how it looks in the Heat locker room — there is not one unquestioned leader. Nor does their have to be for this to work. There is a belief from that Jordan/Kobe mindset that the best players not only have to dominate their opponents, they have to dominate their teammates as well. Jordan lashed out in practice, when Kobe came into the league he wanted to play and beat all his teammates in one-on-one games.
A mythology grew up around that. Fans bought in. As if that was the only way to win. But it is not.
This is not some new idea — Tom Ziller was writing about it a couple weeks ago, our own Rob Mahoney had a post on this same topic back in August. Mahoney noted out that the whole science behind the alpha dog in a pack of wolves was faulty in the first place.
The Heat are close to winning a title and doing it their way. LeBron, for all the perception that he has to be the center of the universe, has set that aside. Wade welcomed in a co-leader. They both took less money to make it all happen. They both have taken over at the end of games, and in Game 3 they both passed to the open man when the game was on the line.
They are sharing the alpha dog role, and because of their relationship that works well for them. You don’t have to like it, but you had better get used to it.