MIAMI -- While the rest of his teammates stood behind a row of tables two days before Thanksgiving, handing out food to needy families just blocks away from AmericanAirlines Arena, Chris Bosh found a more interactive way to participate.
He sat at a table with a group of children for a mean game of Uno.
"This is serious," Bosh said before turning back toward a group of youngsters that quickly went from awed by Bosh to focused on beating him.
Bosh doesn't appear the slightest bit troubled.
He's free, happy.
He seems concerned only with helping underprivileged families both at this Heat-sanctioned event and at his own foundation's Thanksgiving event later that evening.
So Bosh hops in the back of his black Mercedes Sprinter, which can only be described as a sophisticated party bus, complete with flat-screen TVs lining the walls and limousine-style seating. Once he has been driven to his Miami Beach home, he is greeted by his wife, Adrienne, and a pair of white toy dogs, Scout and Cupid.
By the time he sits at the pub-style table in his kitchen, Bosh already has his lunch, complete with a can of Dr Pepper. All he's missing is some sour cream, which he blames his younger cousin, Rachel, for hogging.
He finds some in the fridge, sits back down at the table and starts to reflect.
It's always been good to be Chris Bosh. Just never this good.
He and his wife, Adrienne, have a son, Jackson, Chris' second child.
He's a champion.
He's a center now, which is different.
He's not inundated by mockery everywhere he looks, which is very different.
And he's not bothered by much of anything. At least not over the past six months or so.
Winning a championship wasn't just the finale to a season of redemption. Not for Bosh. For the 28-year-old, it was the much-desired finish to two years of taxing, demanding, frustrating and often emotional times.
He's not a new man. Just different. Improved. More complete.
Bosh thought he was in a good place when he first got to Miami. After only two playoff appearances in seven seasons in Toronto, he was excited about playing on the NBA's most talked about team, and he relished the opportunity to be in his home country.
What he found instead was a nation -- much of it, anyway -- ready to toss him into the Heat Hatred Express that began its rounds once LeBron James brought his you-know-whats to you-know-where.
While LeBron was second guessed for saying the wrong things or missing the wrong shots, Bosh was mocked for, well, just about anything. He was labeled soft. He was considered a third wheel, riding the coattails of LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Nothing was off limits.
"I was just happy to be in the United States market," he said. "I had this talent that I wanted to showcase, and I wanted to show I'm one of the best players in the league. But when I get here, I'm the butt of a lot of jokes and all these things. I'm like, damn, what did I do? What did I do to deserve this?"
He was even called effeminate at times, which led to the most sophomoric humor available.
"It was this one thing during fashion week: I had my legs crossed, and they called me gay," Bosh said. "I've got my legs crossed, I'm chillin', I'm getting my grown man on at the event. It just seemed like anything I did, it was always chastised or made fun of."
There was no empathy, especially not after the Big Three's first season ended in failure.
After Miami's series-clinching Game 6 loss to Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals, TV cameras caught Bosh falling to his knees crying in the hallways on the walk back to the Heat locker room.
It wasn't just the defeat that affected him.
"I put my heart and soul into that game," Bosh said. "We give everything in the playoffs. Then just to come up short. All I could think about was all the negative B.S. I was hearing. I just wanted to prove them wrong so badly, and I was so close.
"I was like, 'It's just not fair.' That's how it felt. It's not fair to have these things alter my life, and all I want to do is win a championship, and we didn't even get that.
"That was everything for me."
It took until the following season began in December for Bosh to finally develop thick enough skin.
He was less burdened. He was also married.
Chris and Adrienne had actually wed privately in their backyard, with a stunning view of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline, in April 2011, before his first playoff run with the Heat began. But he initially denied the marriage despite court records showing otherwise, choosing to wait until the July ceremony to acknowledge the nuptials. Given the season he was having, a simple, private marriage felt right.
"That was very cool because it was just me, her and my daughter (Trinity, now four years old)," Bosh said. "I didn't want to make it a big deal. One thing I notice when you're getting married is that everybody makes you second guess yourself. They're like, 'You sure? You sure? You sure?' Yeah, I'm sure!
"I see why people get cold feet. I see why people elope."
Heading into his second season in Miami, any insults became an "everyday part" of life for Bosh and fell into the background. His sights were set on winning a title.
Just before his second postseason began, Bosh locked himself in his man cave on the second floor of his home and watched every documentary of NBA champions he could find.
From the Lakers to the Celtics to the Bulls to the Heat and the Celtics and Lakers again, Bosh found a similar theme in their title runs.
"There was always a moment when it looked bad," he said. "Always. Every single time, it was over. That's the Bulls included -- every single year.
"So I was like, 'That's it. I've cracked the code.'"
But going through those challenging, everything-is-falling-apart moments is much more difficult that watching it play out on a DVD.
They began, fittingly, with a birth.
Two games into the playoffs, with the Heat leading the Knicks 2-0 in their first-round series, the Boshes played the tricky game of planning a birth around scheduled sporting events. The plan was for Jackson to be born on May 7, a day after Game 4. If it hadn't happened by then, they would induce birth.
But as soon as Bosh landed in New York the evening before Game 3, he received a phone call from Adrienne, who was feeling nauseous and concerned, even though her doctor told her that same day that she shouldn't expect anything.
Bosh, who booked a private plane just in case, was with a friend at BLT Prime, a Manhattan restaurant he wanted to try, when he got another call.
"As soon as we sat down, [I] got the call," he said. "I didn't even order. We stopped by this little place to get something to go. We're calling her friends, 'Code red!'"
Bosh arrived in the delivery room just before 3 a.m. Jackson was born at 3:12.
"I'm just sitting by myself saying, 'I was just in New York,'" Bosh said. "Then the doctor was asking me, 'You want to cut the umbilical cord?'"
Bosh darted back to New York for Game 3, then made the back-and-forth trip again before Game 4. But after the Heat discarded the Knicks in five games, Bosh was seriously injured in Game 1 of the following series against the Pacers.
Of course he was.
It would've been far too perfect for Bosh to have the complete fairy tale without the anguish again, this time just as much physical as mental.
The day after his injury, he was given the target date for a return. Three weeks would be best-case scenario, so that's what he envisioned.
Only, a few days after the injury, Bosh was at home, barely able to walk and watching his team fall behind the Pacers 2-1 in the series. He was 2½ weeks away from recovery, but his teammates looked like they'd be eliminated before that chance ever came.
Bosh was on the verge of depression, even talking to his wife about rescheduling their vacation for June instead of July.
Having Jackson around helped, even if most of the time was spent watching him sleep. But Bosh was in a serious funk.
"I could barely walk," he said. "Couldn't get up on my own. I was sitting here, Dwyane had a terrible game, we were down 2-1 and still on the road. I'm just like, 'Oh my God.'"
That's when Adrienne threw Chris' words back in his face.
Remember that code Bosh cracked about championship teams? Well, this was that time. Only problem was, it wasn't supposed to focus on him.
During what the Boshes call one of their "honesty sessions," Adrienne whipped her husband back into shape.
"My whole thing was, you told me this was coming," Adrienne said. "He was like, 'See, if you watch this, you'll see there's always a time when it doesn't look good. Watch this one, watch this one, watch this one. So be prepared for this when it happens.'
"Then, when the time comes and he's over here getting down on himself, I was like, 'Umm, no. You said this was going to come.' I just told him, 'No. We got this.' I planned our whole summer based on him winning a championship.
"No contingency plans."
It made a little more sense for Bosh then. And when his teammates recovered to beat Indiana, he was back working toward the quickest recovery possible.
On the very day he was officially cleared to return, with his team locked up at 2-2 with the Boston Celtics, Bosh was thrown another twist, this one more jarring than anything he could've experienced in sports.
Bosh hadn't seen his massage therapist, Chautele Mia Cooksey, for a while because he didn't want to potentially aggravate his abdominal injury. But on the day before his return to the court, he called Cooksey for an appointment.
Shortly after Cooksey held Jackson for the first time and handed her back to Adrienne, Cooksey collapsed.
Adrienne yelled, and Chris ran into the room fearing something had happened to Jackson. Soon after, Cooksey regained consciousness and insisted there was no need for medical attention.
"She was like, 'No, I just laid down because I was hot and I was tired,'" Adrienne said. "I said, 'No, you didn't lay down. You passed out.' It was weird. She was just staring into space, kind of lifeless.
"Imagine you're sitting here just fine, and then 10 minutes from now you're not even coherent."
Cooksey lost consciousness again, and Adrienne made the 911 call. Less than an hour after being taken away in an ambulance, Cooksey, 41, was pronounced dead.
The Boshes had known her since they got to Miami in 2010. But after that night, he couldn't even afford to think about her passing. It was impossible not to, of course, but a pivotal Game 5 against the Celtics was hours away, and sports rarely stop for the often harsh reality of everyday life.
Bosh and the Heat lost, at home, and, suddenly, Bosh's comeback from injury was only a minor story in the epic drama that was the apparent collapse of the Miami Heat.
Game 6, of course, goes down in LeBron's history books, and the day of Game 7 began with a great feeling for Bosh.
Before he could start explaining that feeling, his son Jackson is carried into the kitchen by his nanny.
"Heeeeeyy buddy," Bosh offers to his 6-month-old before asking the nanny, in Spanish, how her weekend went.
The pacifier in Jackson's mouth read "No hablo," which translates to "I don't speak," and his bib said "Daddy's Big Guy." After the welcomed interruption, Bosh, back in his usually jovial mood thanks to his son's presence, returned to his Game 7 memories.
"I told my friend driving from shootaround, 'Man, the ball feels real good today. I'm not gonna miss today,'" Bosh said. "He thought I was joking, but I was serious. I was thinking about that all day."
Even his teammates in shootaround couldn't relate to Bosh's odd confidence. He is a lefty, after all.
But they understood it better after Bosh came off the bench to hit eight of his 10 attempts, including, three 3-pointers, to help the Heat pull away from the Celtics.
It also happened in front of Cooksey's sons, who the Boshes invited to the game, along with their mother's best friend and two sons.
Little did Bosh know entering the Finals, but he'd make yet another transition then.
By Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bosh was back in the starting lineup. At center.
It's the position he never wanted to play in Toronto and grudgingly accepted at times in Miami. But here he was, in the championship series, playing strictly in the pivot.
"Even in Toronto, I'd be at the 5 like, 'Didn't I ask [for] this not happen?'" Bosh asks in an exaggerated dignified voice. "'Wasn't it understood?'"
There would be no complaining this time around.
"This is the Finals," Bosh said. "If I have a complaint about being on the floor, starting in the Finals, my old self would've been pissed off at me. ... 18-year-old Chris would've been like, 'Are you serious?'"
The Heat didn't lose a game with Bosh manning the middle, even though he was in constant pain and could only dunk off two feet for fear of re-injuring his abdomen. Bosh's transformation was just about complete. All that was missing was the official coronation.
"I didn't know Mike [Miller] was gonna go crazy like that [in Game 5], but once it was happening, it was like, 'This is how it's supposed to be,'" Bosh said. "It was like magic."
Bosh even played to all the effeminate jokes by pouring champagne on himself in, well, an interesting manner. The video immediately made the rounds on the Internet.
"Oh, I was goofing off by then," Bosh said, laughing. "It was like, 'Yeah buddy. Everybody was talking.'"
Bosh's transition from stunned and thin-skinned to comfortable and ultra-confident didn't go unnoticed.
"I thought he did an unbelievable job of not responding, just responding with the way he plays," Wade said. "He basically said, 'Hey, this is me. You either hate me or love me, but this is who I've always been.'"
The Boshes vacationed, as planned, visiting the south of France, Rome, Paris, Greece, all with his family, all with the glow of a champion, all with the adoration of international fans reminding him of his accomplishments.
He returned this season with no baggage, no regrets, not even an issue with being a full-time center.
"I'm gonna have to outwit them," said Bosh, who is averaging 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and shooting 54.8 percent from the formerly dreaded position. "I'm not going to Shaq them or Kareem them. I'm just thinking of angles I can use and moves. We're just players. If you want to label it, that's fine.
"I kind of just shed that label a little bit. I let it go. I let a lot of things go."
It took a lot longer than he ever expected, but we're finally seeing the Bosh he was expecting us to see.
Not a joke. Not a loser. Not even a power forward.
He's a center, which is still a little weird. He's a champion, which will never get old. He's a family man.
It has never been bad to be Chris Bosh. But it has never felt this good.
"It was never horrible," Bosh said. "But my mindset, my approach and just the way I feel when I go to work every day.
"It used to be we had this tension all the time. Even if it was a beautiful, sunny day, it was 'Damn, I gotta go to work tomorrow.' Who knows what's going to come tomorrow.
"Now it's just ride the nice wave. If something comes up, it's just a part of the gig."