The Miami Heat’s triumph on Thursday night to capture the franchise’s second NBA championship was a watershed moment for a league fresh off the second-longest labor strife in its 62-year history.
For one, it legitimized a controversial approach to roster construction, giving credence to a philosophy that surrounds a core of three superstars with affordable role players.
No less importantly, Miami’s decisive win on Thursday hushed criticism—at least momentarily—of the most maligned superstar in league history. LeBron James consistently came through during pressure-packed games and high leverage moments, willing the Heat through the postseason gauntlet despite a thin bench, a hobbled Chris Bosh and grossly inconsistent, at times even unreliable, Dwyane Wade.
James is the best basketball player in the world, perhaps the best the league has seen since Jordan. His virtuous performance throughout the playoffs isn’t exactly a novel development. Neither is the execution of an age old belief that great NBA players step up when the stakes are greatest.
What is, however, worth taking away from this year’s Finals is that the aforesaid adage applies to former college greats too. Not only is there a correlation between great NBA players and postseason success, but there’s an equally strong parallel between former college basketball stars and success in the NBA playoffs.
A duo of four-year college greats proved irreplaceable during Miami’s championship consquest—two players who, like James, Wade or Bosh, were vital and necessary pieces to the Heat bringing a trophy back to South Beach.
Ex-Jayhawk Mario Chalmers, best remembered for hitting the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation to send the 2008 National Championship to overtime, parlayed his college success story into a similar one on the NBA stage. And though he wasn’t one of the alpha dogs on Miami like he was at Kansas, his timely presence and knack for hitting clutch shots were no less felt.
Chalmers led Miami to a pivotal Game 4 win by scoring 25 points in the contest, 19 of which came in the second half. Chalmers hit pivotal 3s throughout the postseason for the Heat while playing above average on-ball defense for most of the run.
Then there’s Shane Battier, who, like Chalmers, won Most Outstanding Player honors at a Final Four (2001).
Battier is one of the best four-year players the ACC has ever seen. Period. Melding a strong work ethic with a high basketball IQ, great instincts and an effective corner 3-point shot, Battier was quite possibly the most fundamentally sound player to ever play at a school lauded for cultivating players with high basketball IQs.
As a senior, Battier spearheaded a loaded Duke team, along with two-time National Player of the Year Jay Williams, delivering Coach K’s then-third title in Durham. Battier scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds to help cap a furious comeback by Duke against Maryland in the 2001 Final Four. He then tallied 18 points in the title game paired with stifling defense on ex-college star Richard Jefferson to lead Duke past Arizona.
Turns out Battier’s Final Four performance foreshadowed more heroics to come.