Six years ago, the NBA landscape was much different than where it is now. The Los Angeles Lakers were at the top of the mountain. The Golden State Warriors were languishing in mediocrity. Then there was the Miami Heat, a franchise that had enough talent to get to playoffs, but not enough to get far when they were there.
Everything changed on July 8, 2010 when the whole basketball world was thrown upside its head by one infamous "Decision." LeBron James, fresh off of his second MVP with the Cleveland Cavaliers, bolted the team that drafted him to go to Miami with Chris Bosh and form a “super team” with Dwyane Wade. Nobody saw it coming and the aftermath resembled the closest thing to chaos in the NBA.
The “Summer of 2010” will forever be remembered as the summer when Miami’s Big Three was formed. Fast forward six years later and the “Summer of 2016” will forever be remembered as the summer when the last embers of the Big Three finally flickered out.
High expectations met, somewhat
Ask any NBA fan where they were or what they were doing when the LeBron James announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” and more often than not, they’ll recall it in vivid detail. It was that big of a moment for the NBA, and the formation of that team was largely credited as one of the main reasons for the 2011 lockout. Like them or not, the Big Three ushered in a new era of cap manipulation that allowed free agent players to dictate what team they could join, who they could team up with, and doing all of those things without the team giving up anything of significant value in return.
It was a bold move that irreparably changed the NBA’s future, both on and off the court. James was branded as a villain for high-tailing to Miami and breaking the hearts of his beloved witnesses in Cleveland. Bosh was treated similarly in Toronto, albeit in less vitriolic fashion. Fair-weather fans who didn’t follow the NBA suddenly had their own armchair opinions about James and his ring-chasing motivations. It didn’t help that James, Wade, and Bosh fully embraced the heat - no pun intended - that was being showered on them, repeatedly calling themselves “villains” and promising to win “not five, not six, not seven” titles.
The Big Three did win two titles. They also went to four straight NBA finals. In some ways, they lived up to the expectations, if we judge them on the prism of their outlandish promises, they failed miserably in getting to where they had envisioned in the summer of 2010.
LeBron comes home
Shortly after getting decimated in the 2014 Finals by the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron James once again shocked the basketball world when he decided to “come home” to Cleveland. Just like that, four years after bolting the Cavaliers, history repeated itself and James, without question the most important member of the Big Three, was gone. He has since gone on to play in the last two NBA Finals - six in a row, if you’re keeping count - and winning the last one on the back of an all-world performance against the Golden State Warriors that cemented his legacy as one of the game’s all-time great players.
Miami, for its part, went through two tumultuous seasons that included missing the playoffs in 2015 and dealing with a debilitating blood clot condition that prematurely ended Bosh’s 2016 season. They did make the playoffs last season, but everything had changed. Wade was also getting older and his contract was about to expire.
D-Wade’s contentious exit
The circumstances behind Dwyane Wade’s jarring exit from the Miami Heat deserves its own story. But even if no one wanted to admit it, the writing was on the wall. The greatest player in franchise history demanded a contract that would make him the highest-paid player on the team, a distinction that, believe it or not, he never earned in the 13 years he was with the team. A gratuitous spike in the salary cap made it possible, but the Heat balked, opting instead to give their own cap space a little more flexibility. Feelings were hurt, dominoes fell, and just as quickly as a bender on South Beach can go off the rails, Dwyane Wade, Miami’s adopted son, left and signed with the Chicago Bulls.
The Bosh conundrum
Technically, Chris Bosh is still a member of the Miami Heat. But don’t expect him to ever wear a jersey again, not after Heat president Pat Riley went on record saying that Bosh’s “Heat career is probably over" and that the team “is not actively working toward his return.” It’s a contentious situation that’s still unfolding as we speak, but the point is this: Bosh’s blood clot condition was too risky for the Heat to gamble on his life, or at least that’s what the organization says. For his part, Bosh thinks he can still play, but where that’s going to be is another question entirely. It just won’t be with Miami.
The end of the line
Six years after Miami’s Big Three changed the rules of the game, that same game has left it in the past, leaving behind a legacy that’s being defined as much for its success as it is for all the controversy it created.
Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors are now considered as the next great superteam. The Los Angeles Lakers are in the process of rebuilding a torn down franchise. Then there’s the Miami Heat, a franchise whose new cornerstone is Hassan Whiteside, a man who spent the first four years of his professional career mired in obscurity.
Times sure have changed.