Maybe the reason why Miami lost the NBA Finals wasn't so much that LeBron James came up small but rather the Heat was missing a big man.

The Big Man.

Clarence Clemons performed the national anthem before Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals. The Heat won the game and the series.

Clemons was scheduled to perform the anthem before Game 2 of this year's Finals but had to bow out because of a hand injury. The Heat lost the game and the series.

No disrespect to the Mavericks, who were inspirational, sensational and deserving champions. We're just sayin.'

Clemons, who passed away Saturday at 69 because of complications from a stroke, had become South Florida's No. 1 celebrity fan in recent years. The longtime sax player in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band was a fixture at Heat games with his courtside seat near the team's bench.

Dwyane Wade tweeted: "Great musician but a even greater person..we will miss you at the AAA."

And like Shaquille O'Neal, who was part of the Heat's 2006 title team, Clemons had more than one nickname. Although known universally as the Big Man -- not even Shaq thought to appropriate that one -- Clemons was introduced by Springsteen at different times as King of the World, Master of the Universe, Minister of Soul, Secretary of the Brotherhood and Emperor of E Street. Shaq was the Big Aristotle? Well, Clarence was Socrates of the Saxophone.

In addition to the Heat, Clemons handled the anthem for the Marlins, including their season-opening win against the Mets in April, and the Dolphins. More evidence of the Clemons karma? He worked the Dolphins-Titans game in November, and it was the Dolphins' lone home win last season.

Clemons actually had a shot at the NFL himself as a lineman. He was a center and defensive end at Maryland State College, now known as University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a historically black school that in the 60's regularly produced NFL talent, including Hall of Fame left tackle Art Shell.

Clemons, who was 6-2 and 250 pounds in his playing days, went undrafted, but the Cleveland Browns arranged a tryout after a scout noticed him in a semi-pro league in New Jersey.

The day before his tryout, Clemons had a serious car accident, and his injuries were significant enough that the doctor told him to forget about football for a year.

"I was looking toward a pro career," Clemons told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in February, "but God had another plan for me."

His college teammate, Emerson Boozer, a running back who helped the Jets win Super Bowl III, told the Plain Dealer that Clemons was "was good enough to play pro, there's no question about it."

Tough break for Cleveland, but what else is new? The punchline here, of course, is that Clemons made it to the Super Bowl -- The E Street Band was the halftime show for Steelers-Cardinals in February 2009 -- but the Browns still haven't.

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