MIAMI, April 16 – LeBron James left Cleveland in search of an NBA title, and now "King" James and his fellow Miami Heat stars have a chance to show the much-discussed move was worth it.
James, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, provoked the wrath of Cavaliers fans when he opted to join fellow free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
More than the move itself, his widely criticized television programme to announce it was seen as a sign of hubris, earning James jeers at the Heat’s away games around the country.
A slow start for the superstars didn’t help, but Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the adversity had only made the team stronger.
"We’ve developed a resiliency," Spoelstra said. "And a lot of it was a residual of the things we had to experience collectively — failure, pain, extreme noise from the outside."
With their first-round Eastern Conference series against Philadelphia due to start on Saturday, Spoelstra offered his players a reminder of their goal, bringing out the Heat’s 2006 NBA championship trophy at a team meeting.
"Inspiration and motivation," James said of seeing the hardware up close. "Two words that describe it for me."
While James’s playoff disappointments with the Cavaliers have been widely cited as the motivation for his move, Wade was also considering his free agent options after the Heat were ousted in the first round last season.
"This will be my last first-round exit for a while," Wade vowed, and he said he had thought a lot lately of those words.
"I meant it," he says.
Philadelphia coach Doug Collins knows his underdog 76ers will be up against an immensely talented group of players, who still feel they have plenty to prove.
"When those three guys got together last summer, Saturday is what they were shooting for," Collins said. "They did get through the regular season, but they’re pinning their hopes on starting Saturday, that they can make a championship run."
That has been the plan all along, and James said he’s looking forward to the next phase.
"I’m ready," James said.