With two words, LeBron James captured Dwyane Wade's attention.
"I apologize," James said.
He said it late Wednesday night, roughly an hour after the Miami Heat finished off the Boston Celtics in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. Wade was seated to James' left, looking down at the table, when that one phrase immediately had him lift his eyes toward his teammate's face.
The topic was how James and Cleveland lost to Boston in the 2010 playoffs — and the infamous whirlwind that followed his decision to leave the Cavaliers and join the Heat.
In that moment, as the Heat were moving forward, James was looking back.
"I went through a lot, you know, with deciding to be here and the way it panned out, with all the friends and the family and the fans back home," James said. "I apologize for the way it happened."
No specifics were offered. James has said many times in recent months that he wishes certain aspects of last summer went differently. All those references being clear nods to "The Decision," the hourlong televised special on July 8, 2010 in which he announced he was joining the Heat.
He may be sorry for that, but he's surely not sorry about the results so far in Miami.
The Heat are 8-2 in the postseason, 23-5 since March 10, and will be one of four teams left standing in the chase for an NBA title.
That's not hardly good enough for Miami.
"We knew that in order to get to our goal we had to go through Boston," Heat guard Mario Chalmers said. "And we got through them."
Thursday was a quiet day for the Heat, with players taking the day off while coaches and other staff found plenty to do in anticipation of Miami's first trip to the East finals since 2006. The earliest they will play again is Sunday, depending on the outcome of the Chicago-Atlanta matchup.
The Bulls held a 3-2 lead in that series entering Game 6 Thursday night.
It was a championship-type scene as the final buzzer sounded Wednesday in Miami's 97-87 victory, sealing the 4-1 series win over the now-dethroned East champs. The Celtics ended both Miami's season and James' tenure with Cleveland in the 2010 playoffs.
James knelt in prayer. Wade dove into the courtside seats to try and retrieve the final rebound, needing help to slowly get to his feet. Juwan Howard — the 38-year-old veteran who's headed to the NBA's final four for the first time — wrapped his arms around James' and Wade's necks, before they hugged one another. Boston's Ray Allen grabbed Chalmers, barking wisdom for several seconds into his ear as the younger guard nodded.
And how's this for a twist?
After his players were done trying to play defense against the Heat in Game 5, Celtics coach Doc Rivers took a turn defending them.
"You know, I've never seen a team more criticized in my life, and a guy in LeBron more criticized for doing what was legal," Rivers said. "He didn't break a law. He didn't do anything wrong. You know, the preseason parade might have been a little bit much, but other than that ... I just told him 'Good luck and keep going' out there. He was very emotional. Good for him."
Wade scored 34 points in Game 5, James added 33 — including the final 10 of the game.
He at least dampened the he-can't-finish notion.
"Big players make big plays," said Heat center Joel Anthony. "When he was in the moment, the moment was there. He definitely played huge for us. That's part of playoff basketball. There are going to be times like that when you need someone like Bron to come in and just take over like that."
But it wasn't the points, or the two late 3-pointers that swung the tide Miami's way, or the steal and dunk that sealed the victory, or even his kneeling in prayer after the final buzzer that will go down as the compelling memory of Game 5.
It'll be those two words — "I apologize."
Whether it soothed or angered Cleveland is a question without a definitive answer. To move ahead in his title chase, though, James felt he needed that one last look back.
Separately, he and Wade couldn't beat Boston in past playoffs.
Together, they needed only five games to oust the Celtics this year. Simple math: Two superstars shine brighter than one.
"First and foremost, we're friends," Wade said. "And not just friends because of what basketball brings. We genuinely care about each other's families, each other's life. So when you have that kind of friendship, that kind of respect for a person, you figure it out. ... Once we signed on that dotted line, we couldn't run from it. We had to figure it out.
"There was no question in my mind, it was going to work."
- Joel Anthony
- Miami Heat
- LeBron James
- Eastern Conference semifinal series
- Dwyane Wade
- Juwan Howard
- Boston Celtics