Winning streaks are largely the subject matter for fans and media types only. The players are far too focused and far too competitive to let any one stat or headline-grabbing streak have any serious effect on their approach to a professional basketball game. Yet, when the locker room door swung open, the media charged in to saddle up to Lebron James or Dwyane Wade to ask them about their 105-103 victory over Boston and the 23-game winning streak the Miami Heat now possess. The number is astonishing in the modern-day NBA, and it's nearing the truly unfathomable record held by the 1971-72 LA Lakers when Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich ruled the roost at The Fabulous Forum and won 33 games in a row.
To gain some real perspective on "The Streak," my move was to stroll right by James' locker and soar past Wade's. To gain the right insight, you needed to look up and see daylight right down the middle of the Heat dressing room. There sat the man who had as much perspective on winning basketball games as any man to ever walk the court.
His name is Shane Battier and he is a winner.
In a game where flowery stats, crazy nicknames, league scoring titles and shoe endorsements mean the world, there's always the guy who just wants to win. Battier has won and he's won and he's won.
Battier's winning ways are vivid memory for all who've enjoyed these March Madness days of yesteryear because Battier won at Duke to the tune of 131-15 during his four-year stretch as the Mayor of Krzyzewski-ville and that included two trips to the NCAA Final Four and one national title win against Arizona in 2001.
A quick check of his senior year showed winning streaks of 10-0, then 19-1 and then another 10-0 stretch to close out the national championship. When he hoisted the NCAA Final 4 trophy, Shane Battier became the NCAA's all-time winningest player and he still holds the mark today and might hold it forever.
Fast forward to the Houston Rockets of January 29, 2008 through March 16, 2008 and you'll find Shane Battier on the roster of a team that ran-up a 22-game streak, earned by the Rick Adelman-led Rockets. That stanza in mid-season, took Battier's team from 24-20 to 46-20 over a near two-month span.
"We knew back then that it was one of the most improbable runs in basketball history, maybe in sports history," Battier told the Digital Sports Desk as the media gaggle gathered 'round. "We were journeymen, a bunch of role players. When we were healthy, with Yao Ming and Tracy (McGrady), that team was pretty good. But we could never stay healthy, so that (streak) was our championship," said the NBA veteran as he iced his ankles in 12-inches of slurpee frost poured into a painter's bucket in the visitor's dressing room, now packed with fact seekers. Battier was enjoying his newest streak of 23 W's in a row as a member of the 20012-13 Miami Heat, a team that will forever be listed in the NBA record books directly under that 33-game Los Angeles Lakers streak.
Battier's, James' and Wade's Heat are "that" good and they have a serious shot at chasing down "that" record, a record that stands with the great records of all-time. The 33-game mark stands with Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. It stands with Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak. The 33-game winning streak in the NBA is, just, well, ridiculous. It's up there with Oscar Robertson's season-long triple double and Chamberlain's 100-point game, along with the other 100 or so other records that Wilt the Stilt still holds.
But, 33 games? C'mon?
"We had to earn that one," deadpanned Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, the intense but incredibly likable head coach of this Miami team that's filled with rock stars. "We just have to keep grinding away, keep our heads in there and compete," he noted as we all glanced at a stat sheet that chronicled James' 37-point, 12-rebound performance and one of the more enjoyable NBA games of the season.
One way or another, the Heat will either drop a game, maybe to the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 20 or maybe to the San Antonio Spurs in Texas on March 31. Or, the group of 50-75 media today will turn into hundreds or maybe 1,000 if the Miami Heat can take another 10 consecutive games and get to a pair of home games, April 6 and 9, 2013, against the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, respectively. Those games, at home, would be the promised land of pro basketball history.
"We're aware of the streak," said Battier, providing that deep perspective that only a winner such as he could perceive. "It's a special opportunity and we don't take it for granted. To be with a group like this, where everyday, we just try to improve. We're on our quest to improve and we know that nothing in this league is ever guaranteed."
The streak was extended to 23 in a row. Jeff Green (career high 43 points) and the Celtics met defeat when the game was on the line and Green went with his power move to the basket, a move that Shane Battier had studied. While age, lack of "ups" (Battier's words not mine) and utter fatigue worked against the Dukie, Battier's instincts as a basketball player and his depth of knowledge as a competitor and as a winner took over. Then, at a locker stall now as crowded as Lebron's, Battier served up some play-by-play with his perspective.
"I got my hand in there," he said. "It was just enough to get a piece of the ball. The guy had it going but I guessed right."
Yeah, he guessed right for 131 wins at Duke, and he guessed right when he played a major role in that 22-game win streak in Houston. Now, he's a part of something special in Miami because his coaches from basketball days gone by taught him well.
"One half at time," preached Coach K at Duke. "One quarter at a time," said Coach Adelman in Houston. "One possession at a time," said Coach Spoelstra tonight.
That's perspective on the game of basketball and "The Streak" is a result of the effort, the pride, the experience and staying in the moment.