Erik Spoelstra borrowed one of LeBron James' favorite speeches, and Heat gave it life
The Lakers' LeBron James hits the basket during game five of Friday's NBA Finals. James scored 40 points, but Miami won 111-108. (Associated Press)
There is a speech by Theodore Roosevelt that LeBron James really appeals to. In it, Roosevelt, the 26th US President, spoke of the "man who is actually in the arena", the one who gets the job done, who risks failure and is more worthy than the "critic".
On Thursday afternoon, the day before the Lakers took on Miami, which many believed was the NBA final of their 17th championship, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra referred to the speech.
"I know the character of our group and we are still very committed to what our goal is and look forward to the competition tomorrow," said Spoelstra. “Whatever the stories are, we don't care. Our boys are the ones out there in the arena, infested with dust, blood, sweat, and tears. Our boys are the ones out there. 28 other teams aren't out there. Everyone else is basically sitting on their comfy couches and looking at them. Our boys are the ones who are in the arena and that's where they're supposed to be. "
On Friday night, Miami participated in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to prevent elimination for at least one more day. The Heat faces another elimination game on Sunday as the Lakers win their first championship for the first time since 2010. With a 3-2 lead in the series and a track record of recovering from losses, the Lakers are confident they will be able to recover from Friday's setback.
James is playing in his 10th final. Roosevelt's “Man in the Arena” speech has been with him for at least the season of his second final appearance. That came as a member of the Heat, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that James had the quote in his locker for the entire 2010-11 season.
The speech “Citizenship in a Republic” was given by Roosevelt in 1910 at the Sorbonne in Paris. Much of it extolled American imperialism and French achievements. It was thousands of words long, but a 140-word excerpt at the beginning caught the interest of politicians and athletes around the world. The idea of failure means having risked something that those who simply observe do not have.
The idea has been part of James' ethos since he left Cleveland for Miami in 2010. After the move, he was heavily criticized by people who disagreed with the free agency's move.
James has the phrase “man in the arena” written on his shoes and also has a version of his signature shoe that is designed with sentences from the speech.
Miami's trainer Erik Spoelstra watches during the second game of the NBA final against the Lakers. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
James brought up the quote when the Lakers were in Miami in December after being asked what he would tell kids about dealing with doubters.
"Any child who goes through anything that feels like adversity or someone is putting it down just let them read Theodore Roosevelt's quote, 'Man in the Arena,' and you will get a good feeling for it, where I'm from, "said James.
Spoelstra described the move twice on Thursday as excluding the heat. The words "face is tarnished with dust, sweat and blood" appear in Roosevelt's speech and were repeated almost exactly by Spoelstra.
Later in the same press conference, Spoelstra said it again.
"We're here for a reason," he said as he answered his last question. “We're trying to fight for a title. That hasn't changed. And our players, our boys, are the ones in this arena who are clouded with sweat, tears and blood. And that's exactly where they should be. "
The purpose of Spoelstra's reference - and whether it had anything to do with James - was unclear. But a day later, the heat pushed for a Game 5 win that left star Jimmy Butler on the verge of exhaustion.
James, meanwhile, tried to understand the loss and spoke with appreciation for the fight. The effort wasn't the only one, but he has valued its worth for years.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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