The criticisms of Chris Bosh always, always bothered me.
LeBron James got an incredible amount of flak for The Decision and all that came with it, but most of the vitriol seemed to come from a place of betrayal or astonishment at his lack of couth and sorrow about ripping the heart from Cleveland's chest. Hate of LeBron made sense, even if it often seemed ridiculous. There was never any question as to why LeBron became the world's most loathed athlete overnight.
When Bosh announced he was joining his friend Dwyane Wade in Miami, there was no similar outcry from ... well, anyone. Bosh's Canadian exit had been pre-destined; few believed re-signing in Toronto was an option. While the Raptors did their best to latch on to the anti-Heat movement by dinging Bosh here and there, it never really took. It's notable that the most well-known Canadian reaction to Bosh's free agent flight was The Basketball Jones' "Like a Bosh," which itself announces that any anger toward or glee at the expense of Bosh was overblown.
"Like a Bosh" is a classic piece of art, really, that cuts off its own message at its knees. It really highlights the lack of LeBronian anger toward Bosh: for him, it was understandable that he'd join some buddies and compete for a title. He wasn't supposed to be the greatest ever. He'd never come close to a title in Toronto.
But Bosh did begin to take more and more fire once the season began, and the tone was somehow darker than the fire aimed toward LeBron. Only a strain of LeBron hate focused on any perceived lack of toughness or manliness: primarily, people thought that he was a pompous jerk. (Stories about cold french fries didn't help.)
With Bosh, every dig cut beyond personality to his very manhood. They called him "Bosh Spice." They pilloried him for crying in the locker room after a loss. They called him a "lapdog." Every dig carried the connotation that, in some way, Bosh was no longer a man. That he had surrendered his manhood in Miami, and that he was lesser for it.
We all know how ridiculous that sounds, but strange things happen when hate finds its way into hearts. I bristled at almost all Bosh criticism last year; there was one instance where I felt it totally deserved: when Bosh complained about Omer Asik diving for a loose ball, and thus endangering Bosh's career. But this wasn't a straight-up "sissy" complaint, as the primary jeer masters would have it. This was a lack of self-awareness, a refusal to acknowledge that the integrity of hard play trumped 401(k) prospects. Outside of that, Bosh was who he is, and trying to diminish his manhood was totally wrong.
I desperately hope that winning this championship in the fashion that Bosh did quells all of that. More than that, I hope it leads fans to take a more nuanced view of what it means to be a tough athlete.
There's no denying that Bosh was vital to this championship run. Miami struggled when he was lost for a spell against the Pacers and Celtics; they've looked nearly unstoppable since he returned to form late in the Boston series. His pick-and-roll action with Wade has been a perfect counter as teams loaded up on LeBron. His tough rebounding opposite Kevin Durant and OKC's bigs was incredibly important.
And through it all -- last year, this year, this month -- he remained himself. He didn't edit himself to gain approval from the jeering section. He didn't pull a Drake and put on a Tough Guy costume, assuring everyone who'd listen that he was in fact the baddest man around. He remained himself. When he confronted Skip Bayless about the "Bosh Spice" nonsense, he remained calm and spoke of his pride in his family's name. The 20-something multi-millionaire showing up the former journalist who spits nasty for a paycheck while taking the high ground. Maybe that's when Bosh started winning fans back.
Or when we all realized that the guy's sense of humor is impeccable. Or when all of that "Big 2" and "Ch Bo" blahblah was shown as the idiocy it'd been. Whatever the case, the Bosh Hater is now an endangered species. For a time, so was the Pau Gasol Hater, after his powerful performances in clinching the 2009 and 2010 titles. That all fell apart in 2011 (when he didn't show up to the playoffs and rumors immediately circulated about his significant other ... because of course!). Let us hope Bosh Emasculators don't make a comeback should the Heat falter next season. If they do, let us hope that the big man beats them back like he did this season: like a Bosh.
The Hook is an NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.