By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - The 'Big Three' of the Miami Heat won their first NBA titles together when they silenced the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games of the championship series, but the achievement was not as easy as one, two, three.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had to make sacrifices in the blending of their talents under an emerging young coach in Erik Spoelstra.
The trio arranged to play for the Heat two years ago in a quest for championships, but fell short against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals in their first season before finding the winning formula in the second.
James had to step up into the role of team leader and polish his post-up game. Wade had to step aside as the team's ‘closer' to allow James room to grow, and Bosh had to shift from power forward to center to make the grand plan work.
"We all knew that this team was built a little bit differently, and we needed to absolutely embrace what some would see as unconventional," said Spoelstra, whose team could attack the basket while kicking out for three-pointers without the benefit of a dominant center.
"We would need an inside presence to be able to play inside out. LeBron knew that, as well. We were all on the same page about it," added Spoelsra.
"He dedicated the summer to develop that game, and that allowed us to play like the power teams that you see with a big center. Dwyane Wade also helped with that."
James, driven in his pursuit of an NBA crown, dedicated himself to improving his play down low, and went to work with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon to boost his scoring moves near the basket.
Last year the team seemed unsure of who would take charge at the end of games, particularly in the Finals series, but James emerged as the team's go-to man and brought a greater resolve to the court.
"Just to see the perseverance that he's had, and just to witness every day, day in, day out, his progression as a leader and his will to win, I mean, it's been incredible," Bosh said about James. "I'm really proud to call myself a team mate of his. It's just been unbelievable to witness."
Having the slender, sweet-shooting Bosh, who had thrived as a power forward, to play center was critical to the plan.
"Chris embracing the center position really took our team to another level," Spoelstra said. "Because of his speed, his skill set, he could defend multiple positions. But as a center, he became one of the tougher (guys to) cover in the league."
Bosh did not resist the challenge.
"I didn't fight it. I just wanted to be the best big man I could be. I knew how important defense was and is, and I just wanted to make sure I could play the best basketball I possibly could at that role for this team," he said.
"I know a bunch of people made fun of me and said I was soft ... We wanted it so bad, I just wanted it so bad, I didn't care what anybody said, I didn't care what anybody thought."
Wade said the road to the title was built on pain and hard work, rather than the inspiration of a few champion players.
"Man, this process is unbelievably hard, and I don't care who you put on a team. To be a champion would be the hardest thing you do in sports," said Wade, MVP of the Heat's 2006 NBA title run. "Two years ago, putting this team together, obviously we all expected it to be a little easier than it was.
"But we had to go through what we had to go through last year. We needed to. And as much as it hurt, we had to go through that pain and that suffering."
(Editing by Ian Ransom)