LeBron era Heat have big promise to live up to
MIAMI - When LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the Miami Heat in 2010, teaming up with Dwyane Wade to form the 'Big Three', James famously promised "not one, not two, not three" NBA championships.
It was a boast that was mocked and criticized in equal measure as traditionalists winced at the sight of the two free agents celebrating their own arrivals in a pop concert style rally.
James continued that promise, at the glitzy event, even getting as far as "not seven" as he emphasized the need for multiple titles.
So far the Heat, in the James era, are at one.
The first year with the star trio ended in defeat to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals but they recovered to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder last year.
This year they brought the normally routine regular season to life with a remarkable 27 game winning streak - the second longest in NBA history.
Now, after seeing off the Milwaukee Bucks (4-0), the Chicago Bulls (4-1) and the Indiana Pacers (4-3), the Heat are up against the hugely experienced San Antonio Spurs.
If the series end in defeat for Miami, the questions about the effectiveness of Heat president Pat Riley packing the roster with experienced but ageing talent will surely return.
Victory though and the pundits will turn their thoughts to whether the Heat are on their way to becoming one of the league's real dynasties - albeit one which will need some rejuvenating.
The supporting cast in this current Heat team has a short shelf-life - Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, and Mike Miller are all in the twilight of their careers.
While the current team is so closely identified with James, the four-times league Most Valuable Player, it is Wade and Udonis Haslem, who have been at the heart of the Heat for the past decade.
Haslem, Miami born and a product of the University of Florida, went undrafted in 2002 and after playing in France, the Heat took a chance on him in 2003.
The same year, Miami drafted Chicago native Wade from Marquette and they were quickly rewarded with play-off runs in 2004 and 2005 and then the franchise's first NBA championship in 2006.
That Heat team, coached by Riley, beat Dallas in the finals, featured the giant presence of Shaquille O'Neal and the inspirational Alonzo Mourning, who still remains a part of the Heat organization.
The Heat, which had entered the league as an expansion franchise in 1988, had finally entered the elite of the NBA but they found it tough to stay there.
Despite Wade's talent, they failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs in the next four seasons, prompting Riley, now in command as president with his protege Erik Spoelstra as coach, to make his audacious move in free agency.
The arrival of James and Bosh instantly transformed the Heat, establishing them as the number one sports franchise in Florida and making them the team everyone else in the NBA wanted to beat.
As they have proven this season though, the chants of 'Beat the Heat' now have less to do with the jealousy at Riley's skill in the free agency market and much more to do with the simple fact that in the NBA Miami are the team you have to beat if you want a title.
(Editing by Julian Linden)