Heat Strokes, Game 21: The Meeting Is The Message

FreeDarko's Bethlehem Shoals, a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse and co-author of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (visit the FreeDarko store, too!), is keeping a game-by-game diary of the Heat's season — the one you're pretending not to care about.

Result: Heat 89, Hawks 77
Record: 13-8

Everything is fantastic, thank you very much. On Nov. 27, the Heat lost to Dallas; The Bump was seared into our collective memory; and a players-only meeting signaled real crisis. Two days later, Miami beat Washington. Then Detroit. Then Cleveland. Last night, it was Atlanta. The Bucks tonight? Please. This team is rolling, and only the Jazz on Wednesday present an immediate obstacle.

According to the Miami Herald, it all goes back to that players-only meeting. That was when James, Wade, and Bosh realized it was OK to call each other out. Things weren't perfect, nor should they have expected them to be. To that point, what rapport they had was a product of the Olympics and maybe some occasional socializing. There's a difference between the team waiting patiently for its identity to emerge, and its principals deciding they have to take some initiative, some responsibility. It's a beautiful moment, the day the players found themselves and, in their darkest hour, found each other, and it will echo through the ages, or at least through the first Miami Heat instabook to hit the remainder bin a year from now.

Here, look at how things have changed. From the Herald:

In Dallas, players opened up, reached out and didn't hold back. Not even Wade, the team's co-captain, was immune to criticism. "I think we all looked at each other and we [held] each other accountable for our games,'' Wade said. "I hear from LeBron all the time now that I'm the worst finisher in the league now because I can't make a layup sometimes ... But it helps me out because now I want to prove him wrong."

So the story now is that the Heat got in line after a players-only meeting wherein everyone yelled at each other. They haven't let up since; apparently, a healthy dose of criticism is just what this team needed. Not that there hasn't been criticism all along. It just wasn't coming from the right place. This is one of those times when you start to wonder what exactly Erik Spoelstra is, or isn't, doing for this team.

Players-only meetings have always mystified me. I know that sometimes, athletes need to clear the air, with no authority figure to guide them — or hold them back. This is the moment of truth, man to man. The workplace won't save you. At the same time, if the coach isn't present, there's also the distinct air of mutiny. These meetings can go either way. Sometimes, they're a highly targeted bit of therapy that gets a team on track. Others, the prelude to a head coach's losing the team and subsequently, his job. It's a calculated risk, especially for the coach — who, incidentally, doesn't call them, and may never know what's said.

In the Heat's case, though, we know exactly what was said. It's all in the newspaper. And now, this meeting — where LeBron told Wade that he sucked — is credited with putting the Miami Heat back together again. Coming hours after The Bump, it could have been either a repudiation of Spoelstra or a much-needed chance for the guys to talk amongst themselves. Either way, you get the sense that Spoelstra wasn't subjecting the Heat to much real talk, or that they weren't listening, and that James, Wade and Bosh probably weren't really communicating much with each other, either.

Now, The Bump has been supplanted by The Meeting. On the ultimate players' team, it's the players who will motivate and instruct each other. Spoelstra will stick around indefinitely because he's harmless. The Heat will help each other, and when they're ready, he'll call a play or do some small-bore tinkering with the rotations. Maybe another coach would — or could — do more. Maybe we should call Spoelstra weak, or the players arrogant. The real question, though, is whether The Meeting is even more insidious than The Bump. At least with The Bump, the coach had to get pushed out of the way.

Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of FreeDarko.com and a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse. You can buy The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History and lots of other stuff at the FreeDarko store.