Winning Like A Bosh

Smart, successful and self-aware, Miami’s much-critiqued Chris Bosh is an NBA superstar without the rep. He showed it again in the Heat’s Game 2 victory.

By Jordan White

Sweating on a bench next to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Extravagant South Beach parties. Crying at the 2011 Finals as he left the court and nearly collapsing. Leaving Toronto behind and attending Lakers games before the end of his contract. Guarding centers, hedging against guards. Dunks in the pick and roll, three-pointers from deep.

It is a strange life. It is an emotional life.

This is the life of Chris Bosh.

When Bosh broke down and cried after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in those 2011 NBA Finals, it was the final, damning piece of evidence the prosecution needed for its case against him. Bosh’s crime: treasonous acts against the codes of both manhood and big men.

The case had been building for some time, with previous instances of unmanliness presented. Not one year earlier, Bosh, rather than try and win a title by himself, as men do, instead surrendered and joined forces with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in Miami. That he eventually won two titles is of little importance. He surrendered, asked for help. Men do not ask for help.

They cited Bosh’s statistics. If Bosh was indeed a true big man, the wouldn’t he average more than 10 rebounds per game for his career? Wouldn’t he spend more time battling in the paint and less time camping at the elbows? Real big men aren’t supposed to be shooters — they only shoot as a last resort. Big men are precisely that: big. Neither lanky nor lithe, but thick with muscle; shoulders like boulders, legs like tree trunks. Big men block shots. Big men demand the ball, they don’t wait for it to come to them on a kickout.

“You have to look beyond the numbers. I think sometimes he’s evaluated and judged from the outside just on his scoring average,” Erik Spoesltra told reporters at shootaround before the Miami Heat played the Denver Nuggets earlier this season. “And that does not at all tell the true story of Chris Bosh.”

Nearly every interview or feature concerning Bosh mentions the eight-time All-Star’s thoughtful demeanor. He is a voracious reader, citing The 33 Strategies of War and Outliers among his favorite books. When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would go to clubs after a game, Bosh was just as likely to go to dinner with his wife. Whenever he’s questioned about crying after the 2011 Finals loss to the Mavericks, Bosh makes neither apology nor excuse. Displaying a keen self-awareness in a 2012 interview with ESPN, he defended his emotive nature without being defensive.

“It doesn’t have anything with being tough or being soft. “I truly believed that we were going to win it. And in that moment, I just thought about everything, all those things we went through, you’re very vulnerable. I gave everything I had. All your feelings, all your energy, you put everything out there. And you come up short. It was a hell of an experience just to be hurt.”

Our feelings and emotions prove our humanity. Yet humanity is perhaps the last trait we wish to see in athletes. We imagine them superior, not just physically but mentally, as well. The mind of a competitor, supposedly, has no use for feeble feelings such as pain or sadness or loneliness.

When an athlete, especially a star athlete, dares to display their humanity, we reject them and brand them as weak. Maybe this reaction is linked to our desire to relate to an athlete. We think them better because we want ourselves to be better. No player has been more a victim of this reaction than Chris Bosh.

Bosh cried after coming so close to achieving his ultimate dream, only to have it escape his grasp at the last second. It was a moment of weakness, confirming that he didn’t have the mental fortitude necessary to be a true star. He’s soft, sensitive, forever shrinking from the big moments.

Simplicity is so often the co-conspirator of ignorance.

That Bosh expresses his full spectrum of emotions, from the aforementioned crying after a devastating loss to roaring and flexing after a momentous shot or defensive play, suggests not mental frailty, but — at least beyond it — a high emotional intelligence.

According to a study on emotional intelligence and leadership by Dr. Jennifer M. George, Professor of Management and Psychology at Rice University, emotional intelligence “essentially describes the ability to effectively join emotions and reasoning, using emotions to facilitate reasoning and reasoning intelligently about emotions.”

Bosh’s open display of emotions are in direct contrast with his on-court contributions, which are so often masked in the untold and unrecorded.

Just as Bosh displays the full spectrum of possible human emotions, he likewise displays the full spectrum of what’s possible as a basketball player.

“He’s one of the few legitimate two-way players in this league,” Spoelstra says.

Bosh is slightly more coy in his self-assessment.

“I can play the game. I think I’m pretty good,” he says with a smile. “You wouldn’t think by just reading comments or the reception I’ve received.”

On almost any other team, Bosh would be The Man — the offense, the accolades, the glory would be his alone. This was the reality in Toronto. Though he’s still quite capable of those high-scoring displays, as evidenced by his 37-point outburst against Portland earlier this season, it’s no longer the norm. Yet to say Bosh is now merely a role player is to discredit how vital he is to the Heat’s success. While LeBron James may be the Heat’s Alpha and Omega, Bosh is nearly everything in between, from scorer to facilitator to rebounder. Ray Allen hit the now-immortal game-tying three-pointer in Game 6; few recall it was Bosh’s offensive rebound and subsequent pass that made it possible.

Bosh isn’t just a role player, but an amalgam of every role player. He is Marc Gasol, guiding the offense from the elbow and bodying up opponents on defense, calculating a thousand different defensive possibilities in his head. He is Joakim Noah hedging on a pick-and-roll then streaking back to his man before the guard can even think of taking advantage. He is David West, the safety valve for LeBron and Wade’s drives, feet firmly planted at his sweet spot, hands awaiting the pass.

“[With] how the league has changed and how many bigs can do what he can do, you can count them on one hand,” Spoelstra says. “I think he’s the most dynamic, versatile forward in the NBA.”

In Dr. George’s study, she claims that those with high emotional intelligence can use emotions to enhance cognitive processes and decision making. Emotions, George says, are useful in “directing attention to pressing concerns and signaling what should be the focus of attention (as well as) choosing among options and making decisions.”

George’s study is just one of the many which suggest that a high emotional intelligence is a vital trait in successful leaders, teams and organizations (by the way, research also shows that suppressing one’s emotions is quite unhealthy).

When you consider Bosh’s emotional response from his perspective — that of a healthy, well-adjusted individual — it becomes clear that what may be considered weakness is actually a strength.

Bosh is a tremendous athlete, yet his athleticism manifests not in the manner of Dwight Howard or Serge Ibaka, violently exploding off the floor to repel opponent’s shots, but in a surpassing, balletic grace. His hips sway in time with the rhythm of the defense, and it appears to be such a small effort for him to body a big one moment then shuffle along with a guard the next. It’s his supreme intelligence, in both a basketball and emotional sense, that informs these graceful, yet aggressive movements.

“There aren’t that many true two way players in this league that are fully committed on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra says. “Chris has the skill set, the athleticism and the size, but also the commitment and IQ.”

We often say great passers can see the play develop before everyone else — a sort of precognition. Elite defenders have that same ability, though it’s less noticed because the end result of that foresight doesn’t always produce a number. Nevertheless, it’s a rare and highly valuable skill, one that Bosh possesses thanks to the synergy of his emotional and basketball IQs. He feels his way through his thoughts and thinks through his emotions. Those two intelligences, working in harmony, give him that foresight, which in turn gives the Heat a player around whom they can design an offense and defense.

“(He’s) a highly, highly intelligent basketball player and that allows us to do a lot of the things we do on the court,” Spoelstra says.

On the Heat, Bosh may not be The Man, but he is The Key. The team’s furious, swarming defense is predicated on his ability to guard every position on the floor in any possible circumstance.

“He should be considered for first team All-Defense,” Spoelstra says. “He can guard 1-5, just like (LeBron). He can guard pick and rolls 30 feet away from the basket; he can guard post up players in the post; he can guard on switches if you need to at the end of the clock, and guard one through five in those situations, then get the rebound.”

The current iteration of most NBA offenses is that of pick-and-roll heavy schemes, spacing the floor and stretching out a defense. Once, a shooting big man was a bit of a novelty act — good for 10-15 minutes a game, but never a focal point of an offense.

The jump shot was something defenders would have to respect, yet never fear. Now, with players such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki and Bosh himself, to name a few, bigs that can space the floor now have entire offenses designed around them. It takes a special sort of defender to ably defend these sorts of forwards — those equally adept at rolling to the basket and slipping the screen for a jump shot — and Chris Bosh is the archetype.

He doesn’t succumb, doesn’t force himself to be something he is not. He’s more transparent and honest than nearly any other athlete, both on and off the court. He is not a wing trapped in a big’s body, or a fake tough guy. He’s Chris Bosh, two-time champion, the beating heart of Miami’s monstrous attack, and perhaps the most-maligned superstar in the modern NBA.

He didn’t surrender, he sacrificed. And, in this, he is emblematic of the Heat as a whole.

“We’ve all made sacrifices,” James says. “That’s been the untold story of our team in the years we’ve been together.”

Bosh has suffered the slings and arrows. He’s felt the crushing defeat and the stinging criticism. He doesn’t hide from it, he experiences it. And there he was again, in Game 2 of these Finals, first viciously dunking twice on Spurs like a man. Then, in the final moments, delivering a game-altering 3 and then threading the game-sealing pass. Miami had another huge win. Media and fans had another night to marvel over LeBron. Bosh had another couple of moments of passing appreciation for his job well done.

As the series heads back to Miami, the focus will remain on others, even as he lives up to everything his coach and teammates gushed months ago. Bosh knows this, and is OK with this. In the end, Bosh understands himself — and his talents — better than anyone else, anyway.

“I’ve had the utmost confidence since I’ve played this game,” Bosh says. “That’s never changed.”

@JordanSWhite is a Digital Content Programmer for FOX Sports and a Contributor to the ESPN True Hoop Network at Hardwood Paroxysm.