Rudy Bernal showed the video to his team twice. The first time, the coach figured, his Lanier Voks would be impressed. He replayed it again moments before Lanier met Dallas Lincoln in a Texas Class 4A semifinal a dozen years ago. "This is what you'll be seeing all day if we don't get back on defense," Bernal warned. The tape depicted Lincoln performing one rim-rattling dunk after another. Bernal rewound the film over and over again, pointing at Bryan Hopkins, the team's 5-foot-10 do-everything guard, as he took off from the free throw line and finished spectacularly. Few noticed a tall, sinewy Lincoln player named Chris Bosh. Lincoln was taller and stronger than Lanier. It shot better and jumped higher. On average, the Voks starters gave up 6 inches and 50 pounds to their Lincoln counterparts. Most teams would have been intimidated by that video. If not, they would surely be dismayed before the game, when the teams stared each other down in a hallway before taking the court in front of nearly 15,000 at Austin's Erwin Center. Not the Voks. Bernal instructed his team to respect its opponents, not to fear them. They called themselves the Blonde Bombers, dyeing their hair and shooting long jumpers. They played hard, not dirty — like a team full of future coaches.1
Lanier stuck to its game plan. It failed to contain Hopkins, who amassed 26 of Lincoln's 48 points. But it limited his teammates by jamming the lanes and fronting Bosh, inviting him to shoot. "By the first quarter, we knew he didn't have a jump shot," said Joseph Martinez, a guard. "Every time he shot, his form, at the time, was pretty bad." Martin Cardenas guarded the 6-foot-9 Bosh. Cardenas played linebacker for the football team, where his 6-foot-3 frame was more suitable for patrolling the middle. In basketball, Cardenas looked up to giants. But he had watched tape on Bosh and noticed that he was seldom pressured or hurried. Bosh normally caught the ball unmolested and favored a left-handed hook shot. "I probably should have fouled out by the first half," Cardenas said. "But they let us play." Bosh would argue differently. Frustrated by the aggressiveness of his impish opposition, he tried to outmuscle them. "The worst part of it was his last foul," Cardenas said. "We both were going for a rebound and we both had it, but I just ripped it and he went over my head and they called a foul on him. That was pretty sweet to get him out like that."
Bosh fouled out with about two minutes left in the game. He finished with a measly four points. Throughout, Lanier maintained a small lead. Hopkins evened the game, 48-48, with only 15 seconds remaining on a dramatic 3-pointer.
Lincoln, like the Miami Heat a decade later against the Dallas Mavericks, celebrated its good fortune prematurely. Bernal always instructs his inbounder to grab the ball before it hits the floor after a made shot, to attack the defense before it has a chance to establish itself. Josh Martinez found his brother, Joseph, streaking up the court. "There were a couple guys from Dallas Lincoln chasing me and I don't even think I took a dribble," Joseph Martinez said. "I just caught it and laid it up. There were a few seconds left, but that was the last basket scored in the game."
Lanier went on to its first championship game in 56 years, where it faced Ozen of Beaumont.2 Bernal still remembers that Bosh was the only Lincoln Tiger to congratulate him afterward. Bosh then joined in his teammates' pain.
They cried. He cried.
"It kind of humbled us," Bosh said. "It just teaches you a lot of lessons."
"It's funny because when you look at that, you remember when the Heat lost the championship and people made a big deal about him crying in the hallway?" said Leonard Bishop Jr., Bosh's teammate and the son of Lincoln coach Leonard Bishop. "We cried when we lost to Lanier because we just wanted to win so bad. And when you don't you're almost in shock."
Chris and Joel Bosh competed in everything growing up in Hutchins, Texas, a blip of a Dallas suburb. They're separated by two years in age but united by competitiveness. If Chris won, they kept playing. If Joel won, they played until Chris evened the score. It didn't matter what they were competing in — basketball, video games, even drawing. "It's art," Joel Bosh said. "Nobody wins. They both look good, but we were competitive with everything. If you can do it, I can do it."
The competition coursed throughout their immediate family and occasionally turned toxic. "You don't want to lose," Joel Bosh said. "When you lose, it's not a good feeling, especially when the person you lose to is talking shit. The only way to shut them up is to win.
"Chris always wanted to win. He found a way to win, [to be] on the right team and meet the right coaches who were gonna put him in the right position."
Those coaches, Leonard Bishop at Lincoln and Mitch Malone with the AAU's Texas Blue Chips, played pivotal roles in Chris Bosh's maturation. Bishop played Bosh heavy minutes on varsity as a high school sophomore, knowing that he would occasionally struggle against the older, stronger competition. On one occasion, after a charge against a larger opponent went against him, he returned to the bench tearful. But Bishop taught him perseverance and, crucially, helped him fix his deficient shot.
"I gave him a little device — he worked on it for two or three days about 15 minutes before practice and he had it corrected," Bishop said.
While Bosh worked with Bishop during the school year, Malone dominated his summers. Malone is something of a big-man connoisseur and considers their development his specialty. "I try to get them to understand that you can use your length and your leverage and your footwork inside. Being able to establish that burst, being able to face up, it's a lost art," Malone said. "And it will get you paid."
"This is what a lot of people don't know about Chris," Malone continued. "Chris, as a sophomore, was a 6-foot-4 wing. He grew 4 inches during the school year."
Malone taught Bosh to play like Kevin Garnett, whom Bosh idolized. Growing up, he had posters of KG on his bedroom wall. Bosh, Malone said, reacted like most kids in the midst of a growth spurt — kids who wanted to shoot fadeaways like Jordan, not plod through the middle like Shaq. He wanted to run off screens, not set them. Malone knew how the game was changing, so he compromised: Once his post players established an inside presence, he allowed them to pop outside and face the basket. Malone also noticed that while Bosh grew, his feet did not, allowing him to remain quick, agile, and coordinated.
Bosh wanted to win. He wanted to get better. He aligned himself with the best to accomplish both. On the Blue Chips, he played with Ike Diogu, a future first-round NBA draft pick, and Daniel Horton, who later became the Big Ten Freshman of the Year at Michigan. "He was always on a team full of good players and he would never get the shine that Bryan Hopkins might be getting or Daniel Horton might be getting or Ike Diogu," Joel Bosh said. "Everybody else would be ranked and he would kind of just be on the team." Hopkins was still the star at Lincoln. "He was an amazing player to watch in high school," Joel Bosh said. "He was really dunking on people, 5-9, 5-10, jumping over people's heads — and he was from the hood. He was from the city, so he was the superstar. He was the guy everyone thought was going to the league."
Horton and Hopkins helped pave Bosh's path to Georgia Tech. Dean Keener, a Yellow Jackets assistant at the time, was intimately familiar with Texas recruiting, having formerly served on Southern Methodist University's staff. He planned a recruiting visit to scout guards and watched Horton, Hopkins, and The Colony's Deron Williams. Williams impressed Keener. He also liked a point guard he had seen a couple weeks earlier, Jarrett Jack, above the others. But while scouting Hopkins, he noticed Bosh. "We did not even have him in our database," Keener said. Keener reported back to Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt: "Lincoln has a tall, thin kid who's got a chance to be really, really good. And by the way, he's darn near a 4.03 student, and his name is Chris Bosh."
"Paul, to this day, still razzes me about that when Chris is in the All-Star Game or they're winning a championship," said Keener. "He texted me last year when the Heat won, 'You think he's got a chance?'"
Soon, every school had Bosh in their database. After earning national recognition the summer after that tearful loss to Lanier, he attended the ABCD Camp at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Malone told other coaches that Bosh should be ranked among the top five players in the country. They were skeptical. His case took a hit when Paul Davis, a Michigan State recruit, dunked on Bosh early during a scrimmage. Malone pulled Bosh aside and looked him in the eye.
"That can't ever happen again," Malone said. "Nobody dunks on you. Nobody takes flight on you. If you've got to get a hard foul to establish your presence, then do that. You hear what I'm saying, right?"
"Yes, sir," Bosh replied before trotting back onto the court.
"Chris dunked on him three or four times and I don't think Paul got a shot off for the rest of the game," Malone recalled. "When Chris left camp, he was a top-five player."
Keener watched from the stands. He called Hewitt, who was in Indiana for the Nike All-American camp. "I don't care if you need to rent a plane, a private jet, to get you here through the night, you need to be here at eight in the morning when this camp begins," Keener remembers telling Hewitt. "Paul, actually that evening, caught the last flight coming out of Indiana." Hewitt arrived to see Bosh. "The recruiting dance is we're not allowed to talk to them, but we're always trying to position ourselves so that they know that we're there to see them, and the kids kind of play it cool. Like they're too cool for school and they don't want to acknowledge us, right?" Hewitt said. "I was kind of just standing there, and it was Chris and Daniel Horton walking out and Chris doesn't know the recruiting game. He sees me and gets this big old smile and waves. You can see Daniel Horton tap him and say, 'Come on, man. You've got to be cool.' That's Chris."
Keener laughed about the memory. "Chris said, 'Coach, I didn't see you here yesterday. I'm glad you're here,'" Keener said. "The NCAA's got their spies there and Paul's like, 'I can't talk to you.' And Chris says, 'You know you're one of my top schools. I just wanted to say hi to you.' He was just a pure kid. We were nervous we were going to get turned in to the NCAA and he said, 'No, I'm just trying to say hi.'"
Bosh committed to Georgia Tech in the fall of 2001. "He did not mind recruiting," Keener said. "He would talk on the phone. You'd call him and if you didn't get him, he'd call you back. It wasn't a situation where it was three minutes and he would want to get off of the phone. He was interesting, more than any high-level kid I ever recruited."
Lincoln went 40-0 during Bosh's senior year. They flattened Kendrick Perkins and Ozen in the state championship game, harassing them into 27 turnovers. "They threw a 1-2-2 full-court press on us and we never did solve it," said Andre Boutte, Ozen's coach. "It was so good I added it to my package afterward." Bishop wanted Bosh to sprint up and down the court and outrun Perkins, who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds. But Bosh scored 21, the bulk of which came in transition.
Bosh pointed to the loss against Lanier and those scrappy Blonde Bombers as a turning point. Good teams, Bishop preached, won games. The great ones win championships.
"We were put in a lot of compromising situations," Bosh said. "I remember it like it was yesterday. There were plenty of games that we probably should have lost, but if it wasn't for losing that past year, we probably wouldn't have gotten over the hump."
No one expected Bosh's Georgia Tech career to last only one year. Bosh chose the school for academic reasons, particularly a computer animation program, as much as basketball. It was clear to many early on, though, that Bosh was destined for the NBA. "I'll be honest with you, I always thought that was my worst year as a head coach," said Hewitt, now the head coach at George Mason University. "I didn't want to put too much on him, so I think we underachieved as a team. That wasn't his fault. That wasn't the team's fault. I was so worried about putting too much on his shoulders. What I learned after the fact is he could have handled anything I threw at him."
Bosh averaged 15.6 points and nine rebounds a game, but Georgia Tech finished a disappointing 16-15 that year. After Tulane beat them handily in a January game, Keener and Bosh returned to the locker room first. Keener put his fist through a dry-erase board. Bosh picked up a fan and hurled it across the locker room. A seething Bosh addressed the team with an expletive-laden speech. "It was a defining moment in the program," Keener said. "It was kind of like young kids, freshmen and sophomores growing up, saying, 'OK, we're not in high school anymore. You can't just show up and [expect to] win a game where you were a 15-point favorite.' Now, we did not make the NCAA tournament that year. We played in the NIT, but I think it laid the framework for later."
Georgia Tech advanced to the 2004 championship game the season after Bosh was drafted. The program had grown up and Bosh had left some indelible traits with teammates like Jarrett Jack.
Bosh and Jack roomed together that season. One night, Jack, tired from a long day of class and practice, was ready to call it a night. He noticed Bosh getting ready to leave at around 9 p.m. He was headed back to the gym. Man, this is a guy who is basically an NBA player and just hasn't been drafted yet, Jack thought to himself. He's probably the last person on the team who needs to work on his game.
"He's the person I got my work ethic from," said Jack, now a member of the Warriors. "I saw the time and dedication that he was willing to put in and I was like, Man, I'm going with him."
Michael Curry, an 11-year veteran, had one rule for rookies who wanted to be groomed into NBA professionals: either arrive early or stick around after shootarounds to put in extra work. The Raptors took Bosh fourth overall in the legendary 2003 draft, wedged between Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. Curry had no idea how willing Bosh would be to improve his game.
"He adapted pretty quickly," said Curry, who retired as a player in 2005 before eventually coaching the Pistons. "I told him there were the things that I did [because] I wasn't that talented, and I lasted [in the NBA]. When you have talent and work hard, you really have a chance to be special." Curry asked Bosh for his shoes after his first NBA game — he had a feeling Bosh's career would be special and he wanted to hang on to the shoes, gifting them back several years down the road.
Toronto, beset by injuries to Vince Carter and Jalen Rose, trudged to a 33-49 record in Bosh's rookie year. Bosh played well, though, earning more of a role as the primary options dwindled. "We had an opportunity for him to play," said Kevin O'Neill, Toronto's coach at the time. "He wasn't ready. Most of those guys aren't anyways, but by the end of his rookie year, we had guys get hurt, so we took a chance at running a lot of our offense through him and he responded really well. You could tell that he was going to be an All-Star." O'Neill counseled Bosh on the necessity of NBA amnesia — win or, more often in Toronto, lose. Sometimes, Bosh would be especially miserable after losses. "It's hard for anybody that's new in the league to understand that you need a very short grieving period," O'Neill said. "As the season went on, he got better at it."
Sam Mitchell replaced O'Neill after Bosh's rookie season. His appointment coincided with an overhaul. The Raptors traded Carter, allowing Bosh to become the face of the franchise. Toronto landed the top pick in 2006 and selected Italy's Andrea Bargnani to pair with Bosh when Rafael Araújo, the eighth overall pick in the 2004 draft, quickly flamed out. They added T.J. Ford and Anthony Parker and awarded Bosh a three-year extension later that summer. In Bosh, Mitchell found a player he could groom into a star, without the prima donna attitude.
"He wasn't demanding," Mitchell said. "He wasn't a diva, he just fit right into the team. He understood how important he was. He understood that we couldn't win without him, yet he didn't have that air of arrogance about him. For a superstar, he was easy to coach. I could get onto Chris about the things that he wasn't doing that he needed to improve on, and he took to constructive coaching." Bosh was not the typical basketball player — he was quiet and thoughtful, as interested in computers and foreign cultures as the game. Hewitt once visited Bosh in Toronto and found that he'd hired a Spanish tutor simply because he wanted to learn the language.
Toronto won the Atlantic Division in 2006-07, only to be quickly eliminated from the playoffs by the Nets. Another first-round exit followed in 2007-08. The Raptors always seemed on the precipice of something better, something more. They never got there. "I remember my first few years, when I would stay on players and argue with players and fight with players about doing what was right and I wouldn't budge," Mitchell said. "Chris said, 'Coach, why do you fight these guys every single day?' I said, 'Chris, I fight these guys because for us to win, the locker room has to be right, one. Two, it's not fair to the guys who are trying to do what's right. I'm not going to let one or two guys ruin the bunch.'"
Toronto fired Mitchell shortly into the 2008-09 season. Then the losses started to pile up. "I thought that wore on him a little bit," Curry said. The two first-round exits would be Bosh's only postseason experiences in Toronto.
"I've averaged 20 and 10," Bosh said. "I think I've shown the capabilities, in multiple years, to average 20 and 10. Nothing happened. No parade was thrown. No award was given. Nothing happened. That made me realize the only stat that's really relevant is the wins. That's all I care about."
That first season seemed destined to end with Miami hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Bosh joined the Heat during the blockbuster free agency of 2010, aligning himself with his Olympic teammates and draft mates, LeBron James and Wade. "Really, with the decision, I think he was the key guy," said Henry Thomas, Bosh's agent, who also represents Wade. "Once he made the commitment to go to Miami, Dwyane was obviously going through the same thing and talking to the same teams that the other guys were talking to, but once Chris committed there, that had an impact on Dwyane staying there and I think that had an impact on LeBron coming there."
James had been an MVP. Wade had been a Finals MVP. There was no question who would be relegated to third banana. Bosh seemed happy to do so if the wins followed. "I just let it go," Bosh said of the criticism. "That's the only thing I can do, because I'm not going to get 30 and 15, or 20 and 10, with this team. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the glory."
That season the Heat rallied from a 9-8 start where every minor hiccup turned into a major spectacle. Miami faced Bosh's hometown Dallas Mavericks in the Finals, winning the first game but then fumbling a 15-point lead in the second game after prematurely celebrating. Dirk Nowitzki, while being defended by Bosh, hit the game-winning shot. Bosh responded with a baseline game winner of his own in Game 3. Dallas ultimately overwhelmed Miami the rest of the series, taking the final three games. It was a familiar burn. Bosh made seven of his nine shots in Dallas's deciding win. But cameras caught him crying and nearly collapsing as he made his way back to the locker room.
"Well, I mean, I was frustrated that — I would have liked to have gotten more involved, but I was just playing the game as it went," Bosh said after the game. "Looking back at it, yeah, I had it going a little bit. I was in a good place for the game. I was ready to play, and I was really looking forward to having a great output. But I don't know what to say, man. Yeah, I should have shot the ball way more."
Bishop, watching the game, thought back to the Lanier loss. "He probably felt the same way," Bishop said. "They should not have lost, but they did. That was just the way it was. There's nothing you can do except just get better and if you win a championship the next two or three years, people will forget that game. I said the same thing in high school. There's nothing we can do about that loss, but if we just come back and be better, people will forget about that."
Bosh responded just like he did at Lincoln. Last season, he returned from an abdominal strain that sidelined him for nine playoff games, nearly derailing Miami's championship hopes. He contributed a sparkling 19 points and eight rebounds in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston and delivered 24 points and seven rebounds in the Finals-clinching win over Oklahoma City.
"Man, it was everything for me," Bosh told reporters after the win. "It was just erasing all those memories, getting that bad taste out of my mouth. I live with that every time I walk down that hall. I forgot cameras were there last year, but whatever. But I think it was good for me in the long run because I could watch every single day what we had to go through and what I had to go through.
"You know, I think for all of us, especially for me, everything that I've been through, just fighting, just acting like I don't hear stuff, and just having the perseverance to keep pushing forward is just a sweet feeling," Bosh continued in the press conference. "I know a bunch of people made fun of me and said I was soft, but you can't be soft playing this game, especially at that five, you know what I'm saying? 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."
The Heat can't win without James. They can't win without Wade. And last year the team learned they can't win without Bosh playing well.
"He's been to one Finals and lost," Miami assistant David Fizdale said of Bosh. "He's been to another and won. And he's put us in a position to get back. None of this happens without Chris Bosh."
I heard what Chris Bosh said, and that's strong words coming from the RuPaul of big men." — Shaquille O'Neal, March 2009
"Well, [Chris Bosh has] been following [Wade] around for two weeks like his lapdog. So that doesn't really surprise me." — Stan Van Gundy, July 2010
"He's on a good team now, so he thinks he can talk a little bit … There's a lot of fake tough guys in this league and he's one of them." — Kevin Durant, January 2011
"I respect the Bosh name, but I have no regrets with referring to you occasionally, especially early and midseason, as Bosh Spice." — Skip Bayless, September 2011
There's a perception that sports fans want athletes to sacrifice personal accolades for the good of the team. That winning should be placed above all else. There is no greater achievement. Bosh is the poster child for sacrifice. He gave up more shots for more wins. A natural power forward, he willingly moved to center so Miami could reach its potential. "He was like, 'Whatever you need, I'll do it,'" Fizdale said. "How many NBA guys say it and mean it?"4 Joel Bosh, who played at Alabama State, said he had upped his 3-point shooting accuracy two years ago. Chris Bosh decided that he wanted to improve his as well, and the pair engaged in 3-point shooting competitions in the offseasons. "After we started playing that game a lot, this guy started hitting 3s in the game," Joel Bosh said. "He started winning games hitting 3s."
Bosh's improved shot is the result of his work with assistant Keith Askins. The transition in Bosh's game from his final season in Toronto to this year with Miami is substantial. He dropped from a team-high 18.4 percent of possessions used in Toronto to 14.2 percent in Miami this season, good for third on the team, according to a report by Synergy Sports Technology. His shots arriving from post-ups have dropped more than 20 percent since his Toronto days. During his last season in Toronto, Bosh used 7.8 possessions a game in the post, ranking fifth in the league. He ranked 51st this season, according to Synergy, at 2.2 post possessions per game. "Your ego does want you to size yourself up against the next guy that you're guarding," Bosh said. "You want to guard him and you want him to guard you and just go at it. I rarely get that opportunity anymore. So a part of you is going to miss it. But that's just something I had to sacrifice to try and win and have a chance for titles playing here."
"It's just something you have to fight," he explained. "It's the main thing you have to fight. I'm not going to sit up here and say it's been easy — it continues to be difficult, because my mentality is totally different. I have to fight my mentality that I built up for 20-something years every day. But there's a fine line that you have to bring and you have to balance it all. I'm getting there. I'm just trying to step up to the plate every day and make sure I do what's necessary to win the game. That's what matters."
That's the attitude that many say they want their favorite athlete to project. He just wants to win. "Chris has even more respect because every coach and general manager around the league understands that somebody on that team had to take a backseat, and Chris Bosh can go to any other team and be the guy," Mitchell said. "He can go to any other team and get 25 shots a game and demand the ball. And he's done that. He did that in Toronto. But if you're going to win championships in the day and age that we're in now, you've got to have at least two stars and another very good player. Out of those three players, somebody's got to take a backseat."
Yet, Bosh is often derided as the third wheel. "It's kind of too late for me to really just think about, OK, I'm going to be a primary guy," Bosh said. "I just want to be the type of dude that did everything I could to help the team win."
Opponents and skeptics attack his masculinity as much as his game. Critics say he's abandoned the post, though the 19 boards he grabbed against the Bulls in Game 3 of the second round say otherwise. Several people close to Bosh endearingly refer to him as a geek because of his off-court interests. They say he's an easy target because of his calm, sensitive demeanor. And things haven't been easy since he changed zip codes. There have been strange and tragic events since he moved to Miami. Last year, his masseuse collapsed at his home and later died. In April, Bosh's home was robbed of $479,000 worth of jewelry, cash, and purses as he celebrated his 29th birthday with friends.
"The All-Stars, the best players in sports, our society wants a certain narrative, and when that narrative maybe isn't up there with what you think, those people who don't fit in that narrative tend to get scrutinized, I think wrongly," said Heat forward Shane Battier. "There are different ways to approach this game and different ways to approach getting to an All-Star level like he has. Most people can't understand it and so the reaction is one of skepticism and criticism."
The Eastern Conference finals were both indicative of Bosh's play and confirmation of the criticism he's received. He can be passive, allergic to the paint, absent from games, only to reappear in time for a Pacer to soar over him for a poster-ready dunk. He can be content to watch James dominate. He can also be too aggressive and disrupt Miami's rhythm, as in the start of Game 7 against Indiana. Or he can settle into the game and play within himself, the way he finished the conference finals. He is three years and now three Finals appearances into this grandiose experiment, and there are still times when it appears as though Chris Bosh is unsure of his role in the Heat hierarchy.
Back at Lincoln, Bosh teamed with Hopkins before joining James and Wade. It was Hopkins who took and missed the last-second shot against Lanier. Bosh was anchored to the bench. It was Hopkins5 who accepted the responsibility of whether Lincoln won or lost. Bosh was important, but he was a contributor who celebrated the wins without shouldering the full burden of the losses. He had Diogu, Horton, and others in AAU. When he finally became the go-to option at Georgia Tech and Toronto to diminishing returns, there were no parades. Only long summers.
So he accepted his fate. "I don't think anybody understands the pressure a guy like LeBron or Kobe is under every single day," said O'Neill, Bosh's first NBA coach. "Being a no. 1 guy on a championship-caliber team is huge pressure. I think Chris could do it, but he's in an ideal position where he doesn't have to do it because of LeBron and Dwyane Wade."
It is difficult to reconcile an All-Star-caliber player who not only shuns the role of a Jordan, but eschews the duties of a Pippen as well. "He may be an easy target because he doesn't lash back a lot. And there are some things you can criticize him for," Fizdale said. "At the end of the day, Chris Bosh, when he's done playing, you can call him what you want. But you have to call him champion."