As much as he might want to go home after more than 90 days in the NBA "bubble" at Disney World in Orlando, Jimmy Butler insisted he and his Heat teammates plan on staying until Oct. 13. That would be the day of a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals, which means the Heat would have to win Game 5 Friday night and a potential Game 6 on Sunday in order to come back from their current 3-1 deficit.
"I like where we’re at, man," Butler said on a video conference call on Thursday. "I smile because it’s true. I like where we’re at…Everybody is ready to compete, ready to get one.
"This is the job — to go out there and try to win a championship no matter where it’s at, here in a bubble in Orlando. We’re all here mentally, physically. We’re all wanting to get this thing done. We all believe we can get this thing done. Ain’t nobody going home yet. We’re still here…It’s not ‘win or go home.’ It’s ‘win or win.’ That’s how we think about it."
If Butler sounded inspired, he was. Now, with the franchise on the ropes against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers, a voice from the past reached out to inspire Butler and his teammates before Game 5.
Hall of Famer Gary Payton wrote a piece for the Players Tribune on Thursday about his experience with the 2006 Heat and how they rebounded from a 2-0 deficit against the Mavericks to win four straight and the title.
"Heat Culture isn’t just about winning," Payton wrote. "It’s about how you win. It’s crawling to the finish line if you have to. It’s leave NOTHING in the tank."
Payton recalled how current Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was a video coordinator for that team but rose in the organization because he totally bought into the culture. Asked if he had read Payton’s article, Spoelstra said, "I did. I was really moved by it, particularly coming from GP. I had goose bumps. It was just the right timing, and what a pleasant surprise to come from one of our former champions."
Spoelstra channeled Payton’s message when he suggested everyone has written the Heat off prematurely. Here’s what Payton told this Heat team about that:
"Y’all are still here — and y’all belong here. Next three games are for the Culture. They forgot about the Miami [bleeping] Heat."
If that doesn’t make the Heat want to run through a wall, nothing will. They trailed the Lakers by only two points late in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and were close to leveling the series, so, it’s not as though they are getting run over. On the other hand, James is 16-1 in his last 17 close-out games, and the Lakers will have their own source of inspiration waiting in their lockers Friday night.
They are planning to wear the "Black Mamba" jerseys designed by the late Kobe Bryant, and they have a 4-0 record in them in Orlando.
"Until you get your hands on them, you don’t see the detail in them," James said, describing the design on the black body of the uniform that is not visible except up close. "It has that Mamba snake print on it. It means something. Something more than just a uniform."
Davis added that winning a title in the Black Mamba jerseys to honor Bryant, who died in a tragic January airplane crash, "will make it all worth it. It’s an insane amount of pressure for sure, but we don’t want to lose, we don’t want to let him down. We can…make this moment even more special."
So, it’s not only an NBA title on the line in Game 5, it’s competing legacies.