A Remarkable Feat Lost In The Weeds Of Sports Coverage

12:49 PM, Apr 3, 2013   |    comments
Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and shooting guard Ray Allen (34) and point guard Mario Chalmers (15) react at the end of the second half against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center (Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)
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(WUSA9) -- Maybe it's the timing of it all or the length of season or maybe we're just desensitized to it by now, but what the Miami Heat just accomplished is simply astonishing in my book. Twenty-seven straight games! Really, 27! Even if you're a hater of LeBron James, and Lord knows there are plenty, you have to admit what the King and his court just did is, as the kids used to say, mack-a-docious! 

Ultimate old-schoolers will probably scoff at the streak, pointing out the fact that it fell six games short of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers' all-time record of 33 but c'mon. Today's NBA is world's apart from that era. Think Model T vs. Lamborghini. True, that team had Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, three of the league's all-time greats. But the league as a whole wasn't nearly as talented as it is today. Not even close. Just a peep at the list of longest winning streaks is proof. Of the top eight winning streaks of all time, six occurred prior to 1972. Only the 2007-08 Houston Rockets (22) and the Heat (27) crack the list. 

Jordan and Pippen's historic Bulls that won 72 games in 1995-96 (most in NBA history) rattled off 18 straight during that season. Shaq and Kobe's 1999-2000 Lakers won 19 in a row.

Miami's accomplishment, however, went somewhat underreported if you ask me. Sure, media outlets gave it the cursory mention but it appeared, at least to me, that most failed to truly put in perspective what the defending champions were doing. 

Timing is one culprit. The Heat's streak began on the same day as the biggest sporting event in the country. As millions of viewers watched the Baltimore Ravens stave off a surreal power outage and a late San Francisco Super Bowl surge, Miami was dusting off the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Win number one, ho-hum.

A week later, fans were still basking in the afterglow of the Ravens improbable run and Ray Lewis had officially closed his pulpit (thank goodness). The Heat, meanwhile, were sprinting past Kobe and the Lakers for their fifth straight win. 

Even a LeBron trip back to his old stomping grounds and the vitriol that accompanied it was trumped. On February 24th James and Dwyane Wade led a late Heat comeback over the woeful Cavs to reach 11 straight wins. Top billing? Nope, Daytona 500. 

Then came March Madness and that was that. This country's love affair with college basketball's climactic month dwarfs just about everything. Miami Heat streak, meet the back burner! As fans gathered around televisions en masse on "Selection Sunday," Miami was quietly beating Toronto for the second time during its majestic run. D-Wade collected 24 points and nine assists, Lebron picked up his 32nd double double of the campaign, and the ageless Ray Allen stroked 16 of his 20 in the penultimate quarter. 22nd straight win, tied for the second longest in NBA history and barely anybody noticed because we were all trying to decide how badly Georgetown would whoop Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA tourney. Oops!

The streak was impressive on many levels. Miami won 13 straight on the road. On the road! Think about your favorite NBA team (around here the Wizards) and the struggles they typically have away from home cooking. The NBA has traditionally been heavily weighted toward home court advantage. According to Bleacher Report, teams won more than 60 percent of the time in their own arena in the regular seasons between 1998-2008.  The bottom line: home teams have a distinct advantage in a sport that requires freakishly tall men to play multiple games a week then tuck themselves onto planes and fly to another city and do it all over again, sometimes within 24 hours. 

Which is why the best teams typically look to play slightly above .500 on the road, knowing they can clean up at home. The Heat broke that mold, beating six playoff-caliber teams in their own gym. 

They also won back-to-back games seven times. How easy it would've been to fold the tent on one of those nights and simply choose to live to fight another day. After all, they're leading the conference standings by 10 games and have plenty of wiggle room.

Numbers aside, the streak occurred for one primary reason, which some still don't want to admit. LeBron James is the world's best player and no hateration can prevent that fact. Whatever gaps existed in his game, he's deleted them. Whatever mental hurdles existed, he's cleared them. James has overcome "The Decision" and placed it in the rear view mirror by ballin' the heck out!
During the streak he was otherworldly, averaging 27 points, eight assists, and eight rebounds per game. His myriad skills on display night in and night out. When teammates wilted from fatigue and points were needed, he obliged (i.e., 39 vs. OKC or 40 vs. Sacramento). Eight times he delivered 10 dimes (assists for you not up on NBA lingo) or more. He snatched 10 rebounds or more on nine occasions. 

The streak was an oh-no moment for haters of the King. The realization that an unstoppable force had materialized. His departure from Cleveland was a PR nightmare, which ESPN was partially complicit in creating. The Worldwide Leader eventually bailed on him, fans who wanted a reason to hate had it, but James grinded through it all and came out on the other end better than ever. 

Miami's streak eventually ended in Chicago at 27 but looking back it was a mind-blowing combination of will, luck, and the world's best player. A feat that, quite frankly, may not be approached for a long time.

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