MIAMI — Chris Bosh recently peered down the hallway that links the Miami Heat locker room and the team’s home court.
Though nearly a year has passed, he still feels the pain.
It’s what the Heat call “Championship Alley,” the photo-covered walls paying tribute to the NBA championship run in 2006. For Bosh, it has a totally different meaning. It’s the place where the sting of losing the finals a year ago made him drop to his knees in anguish, a moment captured for the world to see by television cameras he didn’t know were there.
“I want it to be different this time,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “I want these guys to feel what they see every day in this arena.”
What they see — hundreds of photos of Miami’s title celebrations — represents what this team is chasing. What the Heat were a year ago, in the first chapter of the “Big Three” era in Miami, was probably best described as angry and spiteful.
So now, with the start of another playoff run looming, Wade and Bosh say the mental approach is going to be considerably different this time around. The Heat open the postseason at home against the New York Knicks on Saturday afternoon, claiming to be just as driven by a title as they were a year ago, except this time they believe for more of the right reasons.
“Last year we played to shut everybody up and to prove people wrong instead of playing to win a championship,” Wade said. “We should have played the way we had our whole lives — to raise the trophy up and be called champions. We didn’t have that mindset. That’s different now.”
That’s been a mantra of sorts for Miami throughout this season, beginning around the start of training camp when LeBron James — the player at the epicenter of Heat hate a year ago — said he was going to try and get past the issues that he thinks held the club back last season. James said he didn’t play the game with joy, like he typically did as a kid growing up in Akron, Ohio, and then for his first seven seasons in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This year, James said many times that he indeed was able to successfully change his approach. It apparently rubbed off on everyone else in the Heat locker room as well.
“You just have to play the game,” Bosh said. “I think last year I got too caught up in, ‘This is it. We have to win. We’re going to win.’ Sometimes it doesn’t happen like that. You just have to play the game.”
Most players walked down the hallway from the court to the locker room as the Dallas Mavericks were celebrating the title showing very little emotion. A few said afterward they didn’t know how to react in those first few moments, saying the overriding emotion was shock more than anything else.
Bosh didn’t wait to react. Backup center Erick Dampier helped him down the hall, as Bosh walked with a hand covering his face. He’s not embarrassed by the moment.
“I own it. I embrace it,” Bosh said. “I don’t like to lose. I didn’t know there were cameras in the back and everything. That was a private moment, honestly, for me. It wasn’t for anybody. But I was heartbroken. I had my heart torn from my chest and broken. That wasn’t a good feeling. I don’t cringe from it. It reminds me of what can happen. That was just that one moment, but we live it until this day, until we get over the hump.”
For all the attention James and Wade get, and rightly so, both say that Bosh may be the key to Miami getting over that hump.
It’s not a deflection of responsibility. It’s a statement about numbers.
When Bosh scored 20 points or more this season, the Heat were 19-3. Since Bosh came to Miami, the Heat are 50-15 in two years — including last year’s playoffs — when he gets to 20. It’s not all about scoring, either. When he gets 10 rebounds, Miami is 39-10.
“I think I have that wild-card effect,” Bosh said. “I can lay in the weeds and we can maybe win or maybe not. But if I have a good game, our records are winning ones.”
And there’s no shortage of motivation for Bosh and the Heat in these playoffs. Especially after what happened in last year’s playoffs.
“Obviously, losing burns,” Wade said. “And it hurts. But we wanted it last year just as much as this year. That wound is still there. Going into the postseason you have to relive kind of the moments from last year so you can feel that hurt a little bit, and refocus. But we want it just as bad.”
Their first chance to show that comes on Saturday afternoon.