Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio discusses his development, the rumors surrounding Kevin Love, Flip Saunders’ decision to coach the team and much more in this exclusive interview.
Hate Doesn’t Faze HEAT
If you haven’t noticed, the Miami HEAT have quite a few people rooting against them in the NBA Finals. Miami is easily the most hated team in the NBA and one of the most despised franchises in all of professional sports. Some fans root just as passionately against the HEAT as they root for their favorite team, and social media can get downright ugly during Miami’s games.
LeBron James is a lightning rod for criticism, Chris Bosh seems to appear in a new mean-spirited meme every day and the HEAT as a whole are labeled dirty, soft and cocky among other things by many fans.
Ever since James and Bosh decided to join Dwyane Wade in South Beach back in the summer of 2010, Miami has had a target on their back. The Decision, followed by the over-the-top pep rally celebrating the Big Three’s arrival, rubbed many people the wrong way and many fans haven’t moved on.
That’s why four years later, there are many fans who revel in Miami’s struggles. James, Wade and Bosh have grown accustomed to this and no longer let it get to them, but that wasn’t always the case.
James and Bosh, in particular, struggled with the criticism early on. Bosh wasn’t used to the scrutiny and James, who is someone that cares about how he’s perceived, was used to being the NBA’s golden boy. James admitted that he didn’t enjoy the game of basketball as much during that first year in Miami and didn’t feel right in the villain role.
However, after being scrutinized so much in recent years, the hate no longer fazes the Big Three.
“I don’t care – that’s the main part – I don’t really care about criticism,” Bosh said. “If it doesn’t help me, then I don’t listen to it. Throughout my career, it’s changed, ever since I’ve gotten here, but you just have to put that behind you. Everybody gets criticized, and I understand that. I’m not immune to it. To know that that it’s happened before, I’m not the first, I won’t be the last. This team won’t be the first or the last. Each guy gets picked on. But I think it makes you stronger as a person and I believe in my craft. I work hard at my game and that’s all that matters. … I really let it go a long time ago. I don’t care about those things. I just care about the game. I focus on the game and what we’re supposed to do with it. We have a chance to compete for another championship. That’s all that matters to me right now.”
“You have to [push it aside],” James said. “It’s very difficult at times, very challenging, but for me, I’m here and I know who I’m playing for and what I’m playing for and what I stand for, not only as a basketball player but as man and as a role model. I know what I stand for. To be able to put an NBA uniform on every single night with my name on the back, knowing where I come from, it let’s me know that I’ve done something special. I just try to give back to the game as much as I can while I’m here. … I’ve got a great supporting cast around me that allows me to vent at times. [I] try not to hold it in. I also understand at this point in my life what’s important and what’s not important and what’s important is my teammates, what’s important is my two kids at home, my wife, my family and my friends. That’s what I can control and that’s what’s important to me. Obviously, the game of basketball has brought me so much, and I love to play this game at a high level. And without this game, I wouldn’t be who I am today. But I also know what’s important. Everything else kind of just falls by the wayside.”
After James had to exit Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals due to severe cramping, he was criticized endlessly. Pictures of fans “LeBroning” (pretending to be injured and carried away) trended on social media and he was blasted by fans, media and fellow athletes alike. James took it all in stride, understanding that he’s going to have these critics no matter what he does because of who he is.
“I know I’m the easiest target that we have in sports, I’m aware of it,” James told ESPN. “I really am. I believe it. … I can’t play the game of basketball and live my life on what other people expect me to do or what they think I should do, that doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is being able to make plays for my teammates, to be able to represent the name on the back of my jersey. That’s what makes me happy. What everybody else thinks? That doesn’t really matter to me.”
The next day, James didn’t back down from his comments when they were brought up. When a reporter asked why he thinks he’s the easiest target in sports, James interrupted.
“I don’t think it, I know it,” James said. “I just am, because I’ve been in front of the camera and the camera has been in front of me since I was 15 years old. You guys have seen everything from me, from being an adolescent kid just playing the game of basketball because he loves it as a hobby, to now playing as a professional, to succeeding, going to the top, to falling off the mountain, to going up to the top again. You guys have seen everything that my life has had to offer since I was a 15 year old kid. I don’t know if Brian Windhorst is in here somewhere, is he? He could tell you my life story almost better than my mother could (laughs.) So I think that has a lot to do with it. Half of my life I’ve been in front of this, so it makes me an easy target.”
Bosh agrees that James is the most criticized player in the NBA, but he says he’s not too far behind.
“[If LeBron is the easiest target], I’m probably the second,” Bosh said.
The criticism of Bosh, in particular, annoys HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra since the big man is just doing what his coaches ask of him. Since joining the HEAT, Bosh has changed his game a lot and made many sacrifices for the good of the team. Spoelstra doesn’t understand why Bosh is constantly being harassed by fans, who downplay his importance to the team and question his mental toughness.
“He’s stable, one of the most stable, mentally tough guys I’ve ever been around,” Spoelstra said of Bosh. “That’s why it raises the hair on the back of my neck when people question him. He has absolutely championship DNA. It’s that mental toughness that comes through because he understands he’s going to be criticized from the outside, because of how we ask him to play, which is paramount, that’s critical for our success.
“He’s arguably our most important player. We’ve said that now for four years. If he’s not getting the normal opportunities and he’s not scoring or doesn’t have big rebound numbers, it seems from the outside everybody is so critical about his game. But for us he has a lot on his plate. He’s a two‑way player on both ends of the court. He has to facilitate and space the floor, and he has to find opportunities to be aggressive. It’s a tough balance. He’s versatile enough and important enough for us that he’s been able to find that.”
For all of the hate that this team receives, it hasn’t slowed them down in recent years. The HEAT are three wins away from winning their third straight title and cementing themselves as a modern dynasty.
Divac Remains Involved in International Basketball
There’s no question that Vlade Divac is one of the most successful international players in NBA history. Over the course of his 16-year NBA career, Divac averaged 11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals. He made the playoffs in 14 of his 16 NBA seasons, and he was named an All-Star as well as one of FIBA’s 50 greatest players.
He’s one of only two players born and trained in Europe to appear in 1,000 NBA games (along with Dirk Nowitzki) and one of only three players born and trained in Europe to have his number retired by an NBA team (along with Dražen Petrović and Zydrunas Ilgauskas).
Divac retired from the NBA after the 2004-05 season, but he has remained involved with international basketball players who are trying to follow in his footsteps and make it to the NBA. He tries to help foreign players maximize their potential and mentor them throughout their basketball journey.
“Thankfully, I have experience to tell the guys and help them not to make mistakes that we did when we came over there,” Divac told Basketball Insiders at adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy. “I think it’s very important to talk to the kids about the future of their career. … I feel happy that in the late 80s we kind of opened the door for all of them to start thinking maybe one day they can be part of the NBA. I think that is the best league in the world and a dream of any kid around the world to become an NBA player.
“I owe it to basketball to do things like this. I would be very happy that I had a mentor and somebody who could help me, especially the first six months, and I did. I talk about it in my speech, the Lakers organization really helped me a lot and my teammates. I think it’s very important for the kids to know what they can expect in the league when they go there.”
Divac is staying very busy these days, as he has carved out a successful post-playing career.
“I’m in management of the sports; I’m president of the Olympic Committee of Serbia,” Divac said. “I try to help Serbian athletes reach their goals and become Olympians; so far it’s a great opportunity for me.”
The 46-year-old has some concerns about international basketball, particularly when it comes to “the structure of the teams.”
“In Europe, you see it goes country by country – every year they’re changing the budgets,” Divac said. “It’s not the real rule like the NBA, [where] you have a salary cap and you know exactly how you deal with those things. In Europe, one day it’s a Greek team, one day it’s a Spanish team, a Russian team – the talent moves around and I think it’s not good for basketball.”
When Divac looks at the NBA landscape today, he believes the league has changed and gotten better.
“It’s not just the NBA, every year the sport starts changing, it’s always going a level up,” Divac said. “I think it’s more physical. What’s great about it, especially on the west coast, teams are scoring more points and it’s exciting for the fans. … Some new teams are rising above the shadow. The Clippers, during my career, they always were on the bottom then finally they became a very serious contender. It’s more spread out, it’s not two or three teams anymore, half of the league can think about winning the championship.”
Divac played against Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs a lot during his career, and he’s not shocked that they have remained one of the league’s elite franchises over such a long period of time.
“Knowing the San Antonio Spurs and Gregg Popovich, I’m not surprised at all,” Divac said. “I think that is a true example of true athletes and true management and somebody who really loves the game of basketball; they should be an example for everybody else. I like the San Antonio Spurs, the way they play. I hope they win the championship this year; they had bad luck last year.”
In Treviso, Divac is speaking to the adidas Eurocamp players and running clinics, passing on his wisdom and molding the next wave of international players who will enter the NBA.