MIAMI — The berating of Chris Bosh began almost immediately after the controversial formation of the latest NBA super team nearly four years ago. When he rose up from that stage with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to his left, no member of the Miami Heat’s all-star trio was more animated than Bosh, who leaned, howled and preened as he escaped the obscurity of Canada and stepped into the glaring, intense scrutiny of a union many hoped would fail.
Bosh arrived with an accomplished résumé — five all-star appearances and a career scoring average of 20 points — but he had reached those marks on a bad team in Toronto. He didn’t have Wade’s championship hardware and would never be in the discussion with James for league MVP. On almost any other team, Bosh could’ve been the centerpiece, but he chose to be the third wheel in the Wade-James bromance and thus has been met with blatant disrespect from fans and peers.
James recently stated that he is the “easiest target in sports,” but given the vitriol that Bosh has heard over his time in Miami despite four more all-star appearances and two championship rings, he said, “I’m probably the second.”
Despite the abuse, Bosh remains an integral part of Miami’s success. He grabbed the most important rebound in franchise history in Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals. And should the Heat win a third straight title, he could arguably claim ownership of the second-biggest shot, behind Ray Allen’s backpedaling three-pointer on an assist from Bosh: his own three-pointer from the right corner Sunday that put the Heat ahead to stay in a 98-96 victory in Game 2 over the San Antonio Spurs to even the series at one game apiece.
“I don’t care. That’s the main part. I don’t really care about criticism. If it doesn’t help me, then I don’t listen to it,” Bosh said. “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. 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.”
While Wade had to concede to James in order for the Heat to fulfill its championship potential, Bosh had to take a more extreme step back to both and make the most dramatic adjustments to his game for the entire experiment to work.
“He’s stable,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “One of the most stable mentally tough guys I’ve ever been around. That’s why it raises the hair on the back of my neck when people question him. He has absolutely championship DNA.”
Bosh has struggled to score in the post against bigger, stronger competition, gets punished defensively inside despite his best efforts to compete, and he posts poor rebounding totals despite being 6 feet 11. But some criticisms of him have crossed the line.
Shaquille O’Neal famously called him “the RuPaul of big men.” Kevin Durant once called Bosh “a fake tough guy.” Carlos Boozer once denounced the concept of a big three in Miami, stating that the Heat had just two great players. Internet memes and Twitter cynics repeatedly make jokes about Bosh’s toughness and masculinity.
With James and Wade around, Bosh isn’t going to get many opportunities to respond to his critics, but his contributions don’t go unnoticed within the Heat locker room.
“Look, he’s arguably our most important player,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve said that now for four years. And it’s not just because of that shot. That’s what everybody notices, and 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.”
Bosh grew up trying to pattern his game with the versatility of Kevin Garnett but didn’t become a reliable three-point shooter until this season, when Spoelstra asked him to expand his range to the three-point line to create more spacing for James and Wade to penetrate. After making 74 three-pointers in the regular season — doubling his total from the previous three seasons in Miami — he has connected on 29 in 17 playoff games.
Though the desired championship rings have come at the expense of existing in a bubble in which every mistake his magnified and most accomplishments are discounted, Bosh has stated that he’d be willing to take less to stay in Miami. He realizes that criticism won’t cease with a change of venue. The success, however, might.
“I think validating yourself is a constant process. I really let that go a long time ago,” Bosh said. “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.”