Matt Gordon is the writing editor for Hoopism. His posts will be appearing frequently at Hoopism.com over the coming months. You can follow Matt on twitter @matogo18.
Last summer completely changed my relationship with basketball. Weirdly, most of the people I have to thank for that are employed by my least favorite team in the history of my life as a fan: the Miami Heat. As June turned into July, my twitter feed continued to spiral out of control as I searched for more and more clues as to where “King James” and his cronies would set up shop and take over the basketball universe. I remember following breathlessly as LeBron and Maverick (a little ironic, right?) changed the landscape of basketball with the unforgettable “Decision,” cursing them for seemingly ending 29 teams’ chances of reaching the pinnacle of the sport. I decided at that moment that regardless of what happened down the road, I would hate the Heat.
No, I wasn’t going to burn jerseys or wish legitimate harm upon LeBron because, again, this is just a game. Still, I couldn’t stand how LeBron took the hearts of Clevelanders and naive fans across the world and played them like a yo-yo around his finger. He 100% had the right to make any “Decision” he wanted as an unrestricted free agent, but I never felt that “Decision” needed be made in such ridiculous and almost cruel fashion (I understand now that apparently most, if not all of the planning for the “Decision” was made by Jim Gray and LeBron’s “team” of representatives, but still, every King gets a veto).
Regardless, the Heat brought out competitive fan juices in myself that I normally reserve for my irrational yet completely sensible hatred for Ohio State and Michigan State. I didn’t want to just see the Heat lose, I wanted to see them fail miserably. Again, I didn’t dislike them for deciding to play together because “Jordan wouldn’t have done that,” but because I felt as though they were crowned champions before they even stepped on the court. The problem with that approach, of course, is that as soon as they faltered, they were immediately able to cite all their doubters and haters, somehow trying to buy sympathy points from the media and fans.
As the season progressed, my feelings towards the Heat never faltered, kind of. You see, I still felt the exact same way about the team, the “Decision,” and everything else. However, at the same time, I was starting to develop a weird, somewhat inexplicable love for the team. I love how they bring so much attention to the NBA, and I seriously love having a team other than my hometown Chicago Bulls that gave me legitimate rooting interest in every game. As a fan that has a favorite team, it is truly rare when a “neutral game” not directly or indirectly involving your favorite team makes you get on your feet and yell. Maybe you’ll see a crazy dunk or great shot that will make you excited for a second, but I am talking about sustained rooting interest in a long NBA game. Essentially, the NBA turned into a bizarro WWE as the LeBron and Co. made the biggest heel turn since…ever? (Seriously, I don’t think there is a single strong historical comparison to this Heat team in any sport – not because other teams haven’t been this hated, rather, because of the truly unique set of circumstances that brought the Heat together.)
There’s a reason in the WWE why any prominent wrestling star is identified as either a face (good guy) or heel (bad guy) – it sets up some killer story lines. I’m not saying that when the Heat came together they made a united decision to become a hated team, but that undoubtedly was the result. With the “Big 3″ leading the way, the Heat toured the country all season, enduring aggressive hatred from both die-hard and fair-weather fans alike in order to reach their goal, the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World NBA Championship.
While at times it felt as though the wheels were coming off the “Heatles” bus, our present circumstance always felt somewhat inevitable. No matter how many negative articles were written about the Heat, predicting their demise or inability to gel as a team, it was hard to imagine a different finale. As Lebron ruthlessly destroyed my hometown Chicago Bulls with an unrelenting barrage of long range daggers throughout the Eastern Conference Finals, it dawned on me not only how much I wanted see the Dirkus Circus take center stage at American Airlines Arena/Center, but just how great this sport is.
While in the age of Twitter and social media it often feels as though all one needs to become a full-fledged star is a good relationship with the media (when is the last time Chad Ochocinco won anything?), a best-of-7 NBA playoff series truly determines the rightful winner (stay out of this Donaghy…). So as much as I hate the Heat and want to see them fail, they earned their trip to finals with tough, clutch play. Now, for the past week plus, we fans have had the privilege of watching truly great athletes (except for maybe Brian “The Custodian” Cardinal and half the actual Heat roster) perform on the NBA’s biggest stage, in what has been possibly one of the greatest Finals ever.
I have learned how to love to hate the Heat with a passion. I hate their cocky arrogance, their incredible talent, and their ability to crush the hopes of fans. Yet, as Jason Terry nailed his ridiculous three pointer last night at the end of Game 5, putting the Mavs a single game away from an improbable NBA title, I found myself yelling aloud in excitement (same goes for Games 2 and 4 as well). I have the Heat to thank for that. Never before have I been more excited about games in which no figurative personal stakes are involved. So, here’s to hoping that the Heat give us that unique excitement many more times, as long as the other team continues comes out victorious. Until next time…