Monday, June 6, 2011

I Want to Hate the Miami Heat

I want to hate the Miami Heat. I really do. More than anything. I want to jump on that bandwagon of nationwide hatred of the Big 3, of Pat Riley, and of all the rest of their nameless players.

I want to hate LeBron. The Decision was atrocious, a pathetic display of ignorance and pride. For the 1% of the world who doesn’t know what occurred, let’s recap. LeBron James, the hometown hero of Cleveland, had just led the Cavaliers rag-tag crew to the best record in the league for the second straight season, only to fall short in the playoffs. (Note to Cleveland fans: Akron, LeBron's hometown, is not Cleveland…just saying).

Notice the distinct space between Cleveland and Akron?
While all of the other top free agents committed to their new teams, LeBron held back, refusing to sign until all of the other so-called “max” free agents had made their decisions. Then it was determined that, on national ESPN primetime, LeBron would hold an hour long special during which he would announce where he would be signing next. As the day approached, leaks from LeBron’s crew began to indicate that Miami was the team, where he would join the re-signed Dwyane Wade and the newly signed Chris Bosh to form a new Big 3 in the mold of Boston’s free agent trio of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce a few years earlier, albeit a much younger version. Cavaliers fans irrationally clung to hope, arguing that LeBron could never leave his hometown state and team to join other superstars, that he was destined to be the clear cut #1 on a team of role players who would lead their underdog Cavs to the long awaited NBA title. They further argued that, even if he could leave Cleveland, he certainly couldn’t do it to them on national TV, rubbing the dirt in their faces on the way out.

As it turned out, that is exactly what he did. Chaos ensued in the basketball and sports world. Cleveland fans rioted in the streets, burning jerseys and cursing the name of LeBron. So-called “experts” began proclaiming this team as the best ever, a team that would easily defeat the Bulls single season record of 70 wins with ease. LeBron claimed to not understand the negative feedback he received. It was the ultimate publicity mistake, a classic example of the downfalls of having your old friends as your career advisers, rather than experts (or anyone with common sense) who would have easily been able to tell him how stupid it was, how he would instantly go from being one of the most popular athletes in the world to the villain, a modern day Benedict Arnold with no class, conscience, or care for his fans.

Following the Decision, the Miami Heat further fanned the flames with the infamous and over-the-top welcome celebration of the new Big 3.

 It was a celebration that is rarely matched for NBA Championship seasons, and it was done simply for three guys being on the same team. Their pompous proclamations of "Yes We Did!" were probably a better reflection of the literacy of a three year old than an announcement of any significant achievement. While defenders would argue that it was to get fans excited, this simply was not the case. Everyone who showed up for that absurd party came for one of two reasons. One, they are true fans, and would have been excited about the upcoming season regardless. Or two, they were there for the party. In case people haven’t noticed all the empty seats at Miami Heat home playoff games, partying is a bigger priority for Heat fans than the team is. It just so happened that that night was the biggest party in the city. It was an arrogant and premature celebration of three guys.

Gotta love the enthusiasm that the fans have for this playoff game...
I want to hate Pat Riley for orchestrating this ultimate coup in free agent history. As time has gone on, it has become abundantly clear that James, Wade, Bosh, and Riley had at the very least discussed this possibility for some time. At the most, they had made agreements with each other to make it happen. In either case, it was a violation of NBA anti-tampering rules, something that the NBA conveniently ignored because it realized the goldmine it was sitting on. Not since the Jordan days has the league experienced anywhere close to the level of coverage and publicity that it has this year, spurred on mainly by the Miami triumvirate.

This kind of chemistry clearly took years to develop...
Beyond the obvious fact that it was a despicable dismissal of league rules, it also cost my Chicago Bulls the chance to become a truly dominant team for years to come. The Bulls ended up settling for Carlos Boozer as their main free agent signing, and being able to create depth for their bench with signings of Kyle Korver, Keith Bogans, and Ronnie Brewer. However, they had the cap space to sign two max contract players, meaning that two out of the Miami Big 3 could have come to Chicago to join Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Taj Gibson. Since D-Wade was already in Miami before the free agent season, let’s just pretend that he had decided to stay in Miami, leaving LeBron and Bosh to decide their destinations. As great as Wade is, it is pretty obvious that him and a bunch of veterans signing for the league minimums or veteran mid-level exceptions is far less of a talented group than Rose, Noah, Deng, and Gibson. The Miami Big 3 claimed that they came together because it was the best chance for them to win a championship. But clearly that is false. To clarify, here were the two choices for LeBron and Wade to collude together and choose (sorry Chris, but you’re the smallest of the Big 3 by far): Option 1: Miami. LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Mike Bibby, and Joell Anthony, with Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem for depth off the bench. Option 2: Chicago. LeBron, Wade, Rose, Noah, and Gibson, with Luol Deng off the bench! That’s two of the top 5 players in the league (LeBron and Wade)signing with a team that had the MVP this year (Rose), one of the top centers in the league, and Deng and Gibson. Furthermore, they all would have been signed for the next 5 years (Rose would never have left Chicago, his hometown, with this much talent around him) except for Taj Gibson. It would have been a dynasty. Simply put, the Miami Big 3 made taking their talents to South Beach and having the social scene over the best chance to have a truly great team.

I want to hate D-Wade for his incredible propensity for flopping to get fouls called. He was not a member of my All-Yell team because he doesn’t yell when he does it, but there have been several examples of him sending himself flying through the air, arms flailing, like he’s being swept away by a ventriloquist yanking at his limbs in different directions. Now, granted, this is a league-wide epidemic. The referees have gained the awful habit of blowing the whistle anytime they see a player, especially a star, look even remotely awkward. It doesn’t matter if they don’t see it. All of the stars have learned to take advantage of this horrendous call, but Wade in the playoffs has been in my opinion the most egregious perpetrator. He is a great player, and yet he resorts to cheap tricks to get calls. If he pulled these antics on the streets of Chicago where he grew up, he would be laughed right off the court. I blame the NBA for allowing it, but I’m blaming Wade for taking it to a new level. (Note: runner-up is Dirk).

I want to hate Chris Bosh for being soft. And he is soft. Maybe not on the court as much as he’s played up to be, but emotionally, this guy is about as emotionally tough as Britney Spears post-Federline. Two quick examples of this. One, my Bulls beat the Heat in the regular season, another heart-wrenching loss for the Heat in the final seconds, their coach Erick Spoelstra admitted that many of the players had cried. It was later reported that, allegedly, Bosh had been one of the main culprits. Are they serious!? They were in third in the East at the time, a clear playoff team with three of the best players in the league. And he’s crying over a regular season game? What a joke. Second example is the NBA Finals. He has lost his mind now that Carlos Boozer isn’t “guarding” him, shooting around 30% from the field and shrinking from the big moments. D-Wade literally had to yell at him in the middle of the court during game 3 last night because he was passing up wide open shots and allowing Tyson Chandler to dominate him on the glass. Hardly the performance you would expect from a regular All-Star.

Even Britney could beat Bosh in a jedi mind-trick contest...
Change of pace coming…

Get ready for it…

I can’t believe I’m saying it…

But even after all that, I can’t hate the Heat. For all the crap that I just described, not to mention them knocking my Bulls out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals, I can’t hate the Heat. Here’s some of the reasons why.

Riley: For him, this was the best chance he could give his franchise to contend for championships. As the saying goes, it’s only cheating if you get caught. Was it classy? Was it ethical? I don’t personally think so, but he got away with it. More power to him. An even more impressive thing has been his handling of his protégé, the coach Erik Spoelstra. Spoelstra started as a video assistant with the Heat, and was now being entrusted to coach three of the biggest stars in the league. Meanwhile, Riley was a multiple championship winning coach who had almost complete autonomy in the Heat front office. People clamored for him to come down to the bench and take over the coaching duties, arguing that three big egos would need someone with the experience and respect that Riley commands. When the Heat started the season with a rocky 9-8 record, the clamoring only intensified. But Riley never wavered in his commitment to Spoelstra. He repeatedly denied any desire or need for him to coach again, saying that Spoelstra had the job no matter what. This steady commitment was admirable, particularly when Spoelstra could easily have been made the scapegoat throughout the season when the Heat struggled. Gotta respect that.

Bosh: Despite having stones the size of sand and looking like a velociraptor, he is actually well-known to be one of the more intelligent and thoughtful people in the league. While Wade and James are known to indulge in the South Beach party scene, Bosh is better known for staying home and reading a classic. While this sometimes seems to lead him to overthink on the court, it also has given him a great sense of humor and creativity. Just check this video out. ‘Nuff said.

James: Despite the failure of the Decision in the forum of public opinion, I truly believe that LeBron didn’t realize what he was doing. While that leads me to question his intelligence, as well as the people around him who influence and guide him, it is just a mistake. We’ve all made them. He claims that he did it to raise money. It did end up raising millions for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. One person making an ass of himself, even if he DID know what he was doing, is a small price to pay for that kind of donation to a worthy cause. And to Cleveland fans: MOVE ON. LeBron has learned from his mistake. He apologized to the fans. He stopped doing his chalk-clapping routine that was a fixture in Cleveland. He even brought along one of your franchise’s best players, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, with him to Miami to try to help him get the championship that eluded him in his prime. Furthermore, LeBron’s decision was far from selfish. In some ways, he knew he couldn’t win with it. If he wins championships, people will claim that he needed to lean on Wade to get there. If he doesn’t he’s an utter failure who failed to live up to his immense talent despite now having talent around him. Not to mention the hatred of Cleveland fans.

Or the fact that “something” happened during the playoffs in his last series as a Cavalier against the Celtics. Basic consensus on the story? Delonte West slept with his mother, ruining team chemistry and LeBron’s psyche. Now, for all the people who judge LeBron for leaving, just think about that for a second. Put yourself in his shoes. Your workplace consists of a small group of tight-knit people around your age that you spend almost every waking second with for months. Now, imagine one of them slept with your mother. Some of the people take your side, but some people probably are better friends with the other guy. Do you really want to return there? I didn’t think so.

Wade: If you watch D-Wade on the court, you probably think he is a phenomenal player, a great combination of strength, speed, explosiveness, and skill. But that is only the beginning of his story. He has gone through more adversity than most people to get where he is, and yet it is rarely mentioned. He was essentially raised by his sister, the elder by only 4 years, because his mother was completely out of his life for years, a drug addict who was in and out of jail for cocaine and alcohol abuse and distribution. If you have some time, watch this E:60 special on his story.

Despite his mother being largely absent from his life, and even at one point leaving him as a child and disappearing for years, it has not stopped Wade from unconditionally loving his mother, recently bestowing upon her, now sober, a new church that she preaches at. More recently, Wade endured a long, protracted, and public battle with his ex-wife, one in which she claimed he did drugs, was physically abusive, engaged in sexual acts with his girlfriend Gabrielle Union in front of his children, and was neglectful. In the end, after years, none of these claims were substantiated. In fact, his ex was strongly reprimanded by the court for embarking on an “unstoppable and relentless pattern of conduct for over two years to alienate the children from their father, and lacks either the ability or the willingness to facilitate, let alone encourage, a close and continuing relationship between them”. In winning his battle, he not only now has sole custody of his children (who now live with him in Miami), he overcame an immense stereotype of black fathers being largely absent from their children’s life. Whether with his mother or his children, Wade has exhibited an intense love for family that is admirable of anyone, regardless of gender or race.

All of these things failed to mention one other reason why I can’t hate the Heat: as a basketball fan, they’re fun to watch. Am I afraid of the NBA becoming a few “superteams” with most of the small market teams being left with the scraps? Absolutely. I hope what they did does not become a trend for the good of the league. But I can tell you that I greatly respect their team and enjoy watching them. Is their offensive execution often times little more than isolation basketball? Yes it is. But they are all willing passers, have all given up some of their offensive responsibilities, and, especially in the instances of Wade and LeBron, have made a big-time commitment to the defensive end, transforming the Heat into one of the top defensive teams in the league despite having the transparent defensive efforts of Bibby, Chalmers, James Jones, and Mike Miller out there. It’s been impressive.

Just to clarify, I am rooting for the Mavericks in the Finals. As a Bulls fan, I have yet to completely get over the Heat dismantling my team in the fourth quarters. And as an NBA fan, I think Dirk deserves a title. But I’ll tell you something else. I can’t hate the Heat.

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