MIAMI - A year ago, with an easier path to the league championship, the Heat fell short.
This time things were much tougher, and that made the reward that much sweeter.
The Heat was down against Indiana in the second round, down and facing elimination against Boston in the Eastern Conference final, down against Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals. And when the Heat looked most vulnerable, it turned out to be at its best.
Down 2-1 to Indiana, the Heat won three straight. Down 3-2 to Boston, it won two straight. Down 1-0 to the Thunder, it swept the last four games.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done as a basketball player since I picked up a basketball when I was 9 years old," said LeBron James, who got his long-awaited ring with a Finals MVP performance, referring to Miami's postseason run. "You just put a lot of hard work into it, and hopefully one day you hope that it pays off for you. This was a testament to that. I gave it my all, and it paid off."
Miami was rolling to the title a year ago, going 12-3 in the East playoffs and in the role of favorite heading into the Finals against the Mavericks. The Heat won Game 1, was cruising to a win late in Game 2, and then the wheels came off. Not only did Miami drop that second game, that started a stretch of four losses in five games to cost it the championship.
"Last year it wasn't as hard, and we lost the championship," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "(This year's) Celtics series, man, that was the most challenging series that I've ever played in. And I've played against the Detroit Pistons. ... Our backs were against the wall many times. But I knew, when we went into Boston and won Game 6, at that point right there I knew we could be world champions."
The Heat's championship parade was set for 11 a.m. Monday.
cleveland's mixed feelings: There was no mass burning of jerseys or rioting. When James won his first NBA title Thursday, the city he scorned had a more subdued reaction. Cleveland seemed to sigh in acceptance.
Some remain bitter toward James, who played seven seasons for the Cavaliers before leaving two summers ago for the Heat and announcing his decision on national TV. A few callers to Cleveland sports talk shows vented about James, but other fans said they had moved on a long time ago.
"LeWho?" said Jimmy Pearl of Cleveland. "He left. Outta sight, outta mind, my man."
thousands greet thunder: Thousands of fans gathered for an impromptu celebration in a grass field near Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City on Friday, cheering as players took turns at the microphone thanking them for their support.
"I don't think any other NBA team has the support that we have, and it means a lot to us," Sixth Man of the Year James Harden said. "I know my teammates are definitely appreciative of you guys. Again, thank you."
ratings: Game 5 was the highest-rated program on TV on Thursday night, the Nielsen company said. It averaged 18.5 million viewers.