Q&A: Chris Bosh on Being No. 1 in Miami, Hitting the Books, and the Power of TrustMike Ehrmann/Getty Images
People love to hate superstars (and everything else, basically). But even the most vehement critics of guys like LeBron James, Peyton Manning, and other marquee names at least acknowledge that those players are good at their sports on some basic level.
Things got weirder with Chris Bosh in Miami. Bosh is a nine-time All-Star and two-time champion — a near lock for the Hall of Fame already — but even as recently as last season, a segment of fans talked about him as if he were a useless wimp. He doesn’t play like a traditional big man at either end, but being nontraditional is not the same as being soft.
Bosh has quieted those critics so far in Year 1 of the post-LeBron era in Miami. The league named him Eastern Conference Player of the Week in early November, and Bosh has remained efficient, averaging 22 points and eight boards per game, while shifting to a role as Miami’s no. 1 option.
Bosh visited with Grantland in Milwaukee to discuss his game, the highs and lows of the NBA Finals, and the state of the new Heat.
Do you feel any personal vindication? Like, “Hey! This Chris Bosh guy is actually good!”
No. I don’t feel any vindication. I don’t want that to rule my play or my life. I just want to be sure I play for the right reasons. I just want to win. That has always been my motive. I know I have to continue to raise my level of play as time goes on, but no.
Now, initially — I’m human. I was like, Oh, I can’t wait to show everybody what it’s like! But then it’s, Just chill. It’s a process. I know I’m gonna get a lot better over the season. You can’t get caught up trying to prove everyone wrong right now, when I’m not ready, so to speak.
You discussed this with my colleague Tom Haberstroh: With you, the criticism became strangely personal. Like, people questioned your manhood or whatever. That’s when you tuned it out, I guess?
When it got to that point, that’s when I was like, I can’t pay attention to this. It wasn’t about basketball anymore. It became personal. Our first year together, everybody was just slamming me, and I’m looking at my numbers, like, OK, 18 and six or seven — I’m averaging just as many points and rebounds as the second guy on another team! And they’re treating me like I stink.
After losing the Finals, I just had to kind of find myself again — to just put it all behind me. That helped.
When LeBron left, there was an outcry for you to be Toronto Bosh again — CB4.
But the fun thing about your season so far is that you’re not Toronto Bosh. You’re a no. 1 option again, but you’re doing it your way — the way you’ve evolved in Miami. Facing up from the elbows, driving, shooting 3s. Even your post-ups are basically face-up drives.
I get why everybody would say, “Toronto this, Toronto that.” But that’s not the case. I want to take the experiences I’ve gained and use them to help lead this team. My game has changed. I’ve added the 3-point shot. I’m trying to get to the line in different ways. I’m not as quick or explosive as I was.
You’re quicker than every center, though.
Well, yeah, centers. Ha.
I mean, you are a center now.
I guess so. Hey, I gave that up too. Every time I kept trying to run from it, it kept chasing me.
The team’s offense isn’t as good, obviously, as it was with LeBron, but it looks the same. It’s still pace-and-space. I didn’t expect it to look so similar after you took out the central ingredient like that. Did you?
You can still use the concepts. Now, we’ve put some wrinkles in, and you have to have a little bit of struggle early. Everybody is changing years of habit, and we’re trying to figure this out as games are going on, which is not easy. But I think eventually we’ll get it.
But, yeah, you can have the pace-and-space — sharing the ball, drive-and-kick, catch-and-go. We have to figure it out, though — how to get easier buckets and work together. It’ll get good.
Do you think it’s weird that people care what books you read?
No. I guess you don’t really see a guy with a book, let alone an athlete.
It’s weird to me that it’s news what you read. People tweet it. They don’t tweet about what that dude over there is reading.
Yeah, it’s different. People ask me about that all the time. And I’m like, “I don’t want to tell.”
Yeah, I’ve read you don’t like to share. Why not?
Because you can get insight into somebody’s mind. It’s a personal thing. I don’t like to tell people if I’m reading a self-improvement book or something. Or, “How to Read Better,” and it’ll be like, “Oh, he can’t read.” [Laughing.]
The Houston thing has been well publicized, but you told Haberstroh that a few other teams — the Lakers, Suns, and Nuggets — expressed some interest in you during free agency. Did any of those situations interest you?
It was just interesting to be wanted, after all that time of bashing, bashing, bashing. You kind of bask in it just a little bit. Like, Hey, I’m still valuable. I can still play this game.
But did any of them beyond Houston make you think? Phoenix has a good young core. The Lakers are the Lakers.
Yeah. They make you think for a minute. But I was interested in staying put. But at the time, it’s like, OK, wow. I never imagined this. You just think about it. But for the most part, I was focused on staying with Miami.
When you signed in Miami, did you know you were signing up to play the most exhausting, frenzied defense in the league — blitzing every pick-and-roll, trapping, stuff like that?
No, I did not. I hadn’t bought into the defensive concept. I didn’t even know what it was at the time. And once I got there, it was like, OK, this is a different beast. Running around and scrambling — I kind of knew what that means. But playing defense at an elite level, that changed the game for me.
You guys started softening coverages a bit last season, too — at least mixing it up.
We just got to the point where teams were studying us pretty well.
Indiana got comfortable with it, right?
Yeah, that aggressive style of defense can get you in trouble. Guys started taking advantage of us. San Antonio had us scrambling to where we didn’t even know what to do. That’s another wrinkle that we’ve thrown in this year — giving different looks on defense, trying out different concepts, but still having that backbone of that aggressive, disruptive style.
You guys becoming a small-ball team was kind of an accident. I mean, you used it now and then in your first two years together, but it didn’t become the basis of who you guys were until you got hurt against Indiana in 2012. It’s crazy how much stuff in the NBA happens by accident.
Everything happens by accident. It was just our instinct to survive. It came at a time when our backs were against the wall. But LeBron’s big and strong, and we had other guys who could guard the post. It was like, all right, we’re gonna make this a nightmare for somebody. It worked out pretty well.
Did you have a sense that you guys were doing something innovative? Can you think big-picture like that? The Spurs play beautiful ball, and everyone loves them, but when you were rolling, you guys whipped it around too.
You really just kind of play the game. I didn’t really take note of it until last year, when everyone was like, “Hey, the Spurs are winning the right way!” Wait, what does that mean? You can’t win a championship without playing the right way. I guess it’s just based off a perception. They don’t have the mega superstar anymore. They’ve got their three stars, and they’ve been doing it for a long time.
With Timmy [Duncan] redefining his game, their mega, ultra-star just seemed more like it was the team itself. But he’s always been a team player. I just don’t know what it means, “Oh, they’re playing basketball the right way.”
You guys were unselfish, too, you mean?
Yeah, we moved the ball. I remember one of the years we won it, watching a clip — it was like one possession, and we had like 10 or 11 passes, just to get, like, a kind of open shot. It was exciting. We’ve always moved the ball. We’ve always shared, even when we had the Big Three together.
The West is ridiculous. The East is … not as good. Do you think the NBA should look at somehow just seeding the teams 1-to-16 for the playoffs?
I think the fans would enjoy it. Even in the All-Star Games, you just say, “Man, the West is stacked this year.” Damn near every year. I don’t know why that is. You can make up theories, but the West is stacked, both teamwise and talentwise. You got a guy like Goran Dragic — he makes third-team All-NBA, and he’s not an All-Star.
The Suns won 48 games and don’t even make the playoffs. It doesn’t make any sense.
So you’d officially be interested in looking at the 1-to-16 system?
Yeah. Not last year, though. I read an article about that, and I think if that was true, we’d have been going to Portland at some point [before the Finals]. It’d be exciting for the fans, but it’d be brutal on the teams.
Do you have any memorabilia in your house — a photo, whatever — commemorating The Rebound?
In my house? No.
Really? I’d have a mural of that thing painted somewhere.
Ah, man. That was one of those things that just happened. I don’t need anything to remind me of that stuff. I put all that stuff in the vault somewhere, and I’ll look back at it when I’m older.
That was Game 6 against the Spurs. You scored zero points in Game 7, but you guys won a close game. Since you won, no one talks about you having scored zero points. Do you ever think what it would mean for you — how people would talk about your career — if the Spurs had won Game 7?
Ah, yeah. For sure. If we don’t win, it’d be, “Oh, he didn’t show up in the moment of moments!” I got in foul trouble early. My whole career came full circle in that moment. One of my first coaches in Toronto, Sam Mitchell, always used to get mad at me: “If you’re not scoring, you’ve got to affect the game defensively.”
When I got in foul trouble, I started to panic. And I was like, OK, chill out. It’s just another game. I was playing mental games with myself. And in the second half, it’s like, OK, I gotta get going. I think I had one look, I missed it, and then I set a screen next time down for Dwyane [Wade] — and he really had it going.
That’s when I knew I wasn’t gonna score.
Yeah, I knew with about eight minutes left in the third quarter. I said, OK, I’m probably not gonna score today. I wrapped my head around that, and just tried to stay engaged in the game. They were going to Tim quite a bit, so I had to guard him.
Yeah, Duncan had a pretty great Game 6 in the post.
Oh, yeah. My post defense got better in Game 7 because of that.
After you lost Game 5 last year, I went into your locker room. I expected crying, shouting, people throwing stuff. But it was calm. A couple of guys were joking around, reflecting on the journey. It seemed like there was almost a sense of relief.
You can be both relieved and pissed at the same time, right?
It was draining — just to get there again for the fourth time in a row. You’re trying to three-peat and do all these things. That’s what a lot of people misinterpret when we say it wasn’t fun. That’s the reason it wasn’t fun. To live up to expectations isn’t fun. It’s fun maybe the first year. But the third year and fourth year, it’s just very, very difficult.
Coming off of Game 2 last season, I thought we were gonna win it. I really did. And then, getting smashed at home …
Game 1 was close too. The Spurs won so emphatically at the end, the air conditioning thing kind of vanished from the discourse.
Yeah, for sure. That was a good one, though.
You guys were not far from being up 2-0.
That’s just how series go. They realized it was their moment, and they seized it. It was kind of shocking to go back there down 3-1. We put everything into Game 5, came up short, and then you kinda get over it fast. All right, I’ve been here before. I’ve lost a Finals series before. I was more concentrating on being with the guys, being in that locker room. We could appreciate what we had done, even though we came up short.
The first time you lost the Finals …
Now, that hurt.
You cried. People killed you for that, but I like when athletes are human. I think a lot of people do, actually.
Well, I didn’t know the cameras were there. I wouldn’t have been human if I had known they were spying on us. I totally forgot. I remember walking by and seeing the camera, and it was like, oh man. Because you know how it was that year. It was like, they are gonna kill me tomorrow.
It took me back to being a kid. I used to cry all the time. I hated losing.
Athletes give canned answers, and then when they don’t or show some weakness, they get killed in some circles. Is that annoying?
Well, yeah. I put everything into it. All I could think about at the time was, Man, this isn’t fair. And I wanted to win out of spite, which probably wouldn’t have been the right way to win. But all I could think was, This isn’t fair. I can’t believe this is happening. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.
I just got overwhelmed at the time. I held it together until I got out into the hallway, and then it just hit me — I couldn’t do anything about it anymore. The lockout was coming. It all just hit me in the gut. Boom. I couldn’t help it.
You said after LeBron left that this team could still compete for a title. You’re 9-9 today. Do you still believe that?
I do. It hasn’t been a good quarter for us. It’s been a .500 quarter. I think it’s all about the mentality of the players. I believe that we can, but we have to be so on our game. We can’t make many mistakes. We might run into a team that is more talented than us, but I think we can make up for it with hard work and execution.
Ever since seeing the Spurs play — you look at the Spurs, and I mean no offense to them, but you wouldn’t be like, “Oh, that’s a championship team,” just by looking at ’em. But they will run you into the ground. Because they buy into their system, and they do it together. We’re at an era of basketball now where everybody has to be in sync, because it’s so hard to both score and stop people — how fast the game is now.
And defenses can load up against the ball. You’re toast if you’re a bad passing team.
Yeah. You have to trust each other. The Spurs trust each other to the fullest. It’s the best basketball I ever saw. And I told them that after they beat us. That’s why I wasn’t really that bummed out. I was like, Man, if I’m gonna get beat, it’s by you guys. I can respect that.