Not long ago, I did a post on leadership lessons I gleaned from the Miami Heat on how to embrace being the villain. And of course like most every other red-blooded American male that doesn’t actually live in Miami, I have no love lost for the Heat. Yet here I am again thinking about bigger matters than the NBA playoffs and yet inspired by the Heat—or at least in this case, cautioned by the Heat.
As much as I don’t like this team, I give due respect to their abilities. I picked the Boston Celtics to win it all this year, even after the disaster trade that squandered Kendrick Perkins and left them fatally vulnerable in the middle. And yet by the end of the regular season, I was convinced the Heat were the best team in the league—even better than the Celtics. I picked the Celtics to win, but in my heart it was more “hoping” than expecting them to do really do so. And as much as I love the Dallas Mavericks with their textbook fundamentals and selfless team play, I believed the Heat to be fully capable of beating them.
Everybody keeps talking about LeBron James’ inability to close a game, but did you see him in the Heat-Celtics series? He was inhuman towards the end of those games. The LeBron on display in that series was not just a world-class athlete who was stronger and faster than anybody else on the floor, but a cold-blooded killer, a gunslinger, with the lethal instincts of a Jordan or Bryant. When LeBron becomes that kind of rattlesnake, there is no team in basketball that can beat the Miami Heat. Not everyone will agree, but I would contend that the Celtics were every bit as fierce of an opponent as the Mavericks, even hobbled by injuries. And yet the Heat beat the Celtics 4-1 and lost to the Mavericks 4-2. So what gives?
My pet theory is simple: disposing of the Celtics in a mere 5 games is what did in the Miami Heat. There was no opponent they hated more, nor feared more. The Celtics, with their flagship big three, carved them up multiple times in the regular season. For the Heat, Boston was their Ivan Drago. Through all the highs and lows and public loathing, they had their sights set on taking down the Celtics. And when the time came to do it, they came through without hesitation. It was what they had been training for.
It was the worst-case scenario for Miami. When they applied that level of energy and effort to their most fearsome opponent, they won too easily. The series was not nearly as lopsided as a 4-1 count would tell you—those games were epic battles, some of the most enjoyable in recent NBA history. The Heat realized their full potential in that series. And therein lies the problem. They got what they wanted, proved to themselves and their critics they could beat the best in the business, and thus came into the Dallas series with a much more relaxed mentality. Dwayne Wade’s ribbing of Dirk Nowitzki was juvenile, and they celebrated too much after that first win against Dallas. But those weren’t the problems but the symptoms—getting what they wanted too early and too easily was the disease that robbed them of their fire.
There have been some things I desperately wanted in my life that I thought should have come earlier. There have been some Ivan Dragos I wanted to KO as a young man. But I now see that there has been no more tangible grace in my life than the hand of God that kept me from getting what I wanted to early and too easily. There are certain kinds of successes, certain kinds of victories that will do you more harm than a thousand losses if you aren’t ready enough or mature enough for them.
So I raise the question to you today: Maybe there are some areas of your life or ministry where you feel like either you or God (or both) are a little behind schedule, some things you believe should have happened by now. Have you ever considered the possibility that not getting what you want when you wanted it may have been an act of grace? And what is it that God is attempting to develop in you in the meantime? Instead of asking, “why don’t I have this by now, Lord,” maybe this is the moment to recognize what God has to teach you where you are in this crucial moment.
There may be some lessons that are easier learned now than in the spotlight of the NBA Finals.