Monday, January 13, 2014
Hail to the Heat: White House return set
By Michael Wallace
LeBron James and the Heat return to the White House to be honored for their second straight title.
LeBron James has spent the past decade as arguably the most polarizing, scrutinized and criticized athlete in the world. The Miami Heat star forward and four-time league MVP has learned to adjust and thrive under the intense spotlight throughout his career.
But not even James could imagine what it would be like to work under the global spotlight and walk in the footsteps of the president of the United States. James wouldn't mind playing a game of one-on-one with President Barack Obama on the White House basketball court. But just don’t ask James to sub for Obama in the Oval Office.
“It’s a tough job,” James said Monday. “Obviously, I don’t know the ins and outs about it, the daily regimen. But I wouldn't want to have those shoes. That’s why it’s always important who we vote for, getting the right guy to lead our country, because there are so many things we have to do.”
If any sort of presidency is in James’ future after his playing days are done, it’ll be as the chief executive of a major sports franchise or marketing firm. Politics never have been his thing. That’s why when the Heat make their second trip to the White House in as many seasons on Tuesday to commemorate their second consecutive NBA championship from the 2012-13 season, James will again enter the most powerful building in the world with a full appreciation of how difficult a task it is to be president.
Even with all of the attention and criticism that comes with being LeBron James, it’s relatively peanuts compared with the public demands of being the nation’s commander in chief.
“It doesn’t compare -- absolutely not,” James said. “Because he doesn’t just have to worry about Americans ... his finger, he presses the button on so many issues in the world -- not just America. We know how many people we have in America. But how many people are in the world?”
When the Heat made their trip to the White House last year, a giddy and slightly nervous James walked to the podium beside Obama and declared, “Mama, I made it.” This time around, James plans to play it cool, take in the sights and enjoy the highlight of four consecutive days off the team will have had before Wednesday’s game against the Washington Wizards.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade has visited the White House three times as a champion and has met with Obama numerous other times during fundraisers and social initiatives. Wade said being around the president never gets old, although he was surprised by how small and cozy the Oval Office is in reality.
“On TV, it looks huge,” Wade said. “And then you get in there, you’re like, ‘This is where all of that magic goes down?’ Our president is a very personable guy. He loves the sport we play. You always look forward to that moment when he comes around the circle, goes around and says something to everybody. It’s a cool moment. You get to relax and be yourself.”
There are some who might want to test the limit of relaxation during Tuesday’s visit.
“[Let’s] go in the Oval Office, see some top-secret stuff or something,” center Chris Bosh said of how comfortable the Heat are beginning to feel with these annual championship trips to Washington. “We can just skip all that [formal] stuff, and just go hang out. Just the fact that [Obama] loves basketball. He’s a Bulls fan. I give him that, because he’s from Chicago. Nobody’s perfect. But the fact that he knows who we are, and he watches the game and follows the game closely, it’s pretty cool.”
James, whose team is just 5-4 in its past nine games amid a stretch in which the Heat play 11 of 14 on the road, did have an idea of what his first executive order would be if he were president for a day.
“I’d give the Miami Heat a week off from playing basketball games,” James cracked.
If there was any uncertainty from the players as to what to expect when they arrived at practice Monday after two days off, the agenda was obvious moments into the session.
Still frustrated with his team’s performance in consecutive losses to the Knicks and Nets last week, coach Erik Spoelstra spent Monday’s entire workout refining the Heat’s defensive schemes. During his session with reporters, Spoelstra repeatedly mentioned how the Heat “were humbled” in the Big Apple.
In the two setbacks, Miami’s opponents combined to shoot 50 percent from the field, averaged 103 points and outrebounded the Heat by a total of 21 boards. One problem in particular was the Heat’s struggle to defend the pick-and-roll, which led to multiple breakdowns in the lane.
“These are areas where we’ve had some slippage, we worked on it today and we will definitely be tested in those areas on Wednesday,” Spoelstra said of the challenge of containing Wizards point guard John Wall. “We were humbled this past weekend. It just shows you how this league is. We were beaten on consecutive nights, and we needed a day like today to get back to the basics and remind ourselves we have some work to do. It was a myriad of things we had to focus on to get back on track.”
Spoelstra has separated the season so far into three phases. He said the team’s lack of continuity because of injuries coming out of training camp led to a slower start than expected over the first 10 games. The team then hit a bit of a stride with its preferred pace during a stretch in which the Heat won 15 of 18 games through the Christmas Day victory against the Lakers.
But since then, there has been some of what Spoelstra refers to as “slippage” on both sides of the ball.
“It was just too many breakdowns,” Bosh said of moving beyond the New York problems. “It just seems like we were never on the same page, ever. Either the pick-and-roll coverage was good and the backside defense wasn’t good. Or the strongside defense was good, but the man-to-man isn’t good. Everything was just off, and we haven’t put many games together where we’ve had that total defensive effort, where we’re just keeping our guy in front of us, rebounding the ball, playing good defense on the pick-and-roll, and just choking the life out of teams.”
Bosh insists last week’s humbling should give way to this week’s hunger for redemption.
“We don’t want to go [about this] like we know it all and are just going to cruise to another championship,” Bosh said. “It’s going to be hard work, and we’re going to have to earn it.”
Heat starting point guard Mario Chalmers (Achilles tendinitis) sat out of Monday’s practice and is likely to miss his fourth straight game Wednesday against the Wizards. Forward Shane Battier (quad) practiced Monday and said he expects to return Wednesday after missing the past five games.
Did you know?
The Heat have another crack at taking down a decades-old record set by the Boston Celtics. Entering Wednesday’s game against Washington, the Heat have won 22 consecutive games against divisional opponents -- one shy of Boston’s 23 in a row in 1961. Last month, the Heat saw their 19-game win streak against Western Conference opponents end with a loss in Sacramento. Boston also owns that record, with 20 straight against the West that bridged the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons.
Quote of the day
“It’s a lot of important stuff going on out there in the world that would probably need to be taken care of before I’d go Jet Skiing or something like that. I’d really want to do something nuts. But I see how they’re printing Obama’s traveling bill and expenses online and [criticize] what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. I don’t want that pressure.” -– Heat forward Udonis Haslem, when asked Tuesday what he would do if he were president for one day