I still hate the Heat. I resent the fact that they’re in the finals at all.
Early struggles got a lot of people (namely, ESPN) talking about the Heat “needing a couple years” to “learn how to play together.” The convenient narrative held that such a flashy inception deserved a season or two of humbling. They flew too close to the sun, they were bound to get burned.
There was also a sense in which Lebron needed to be punished. For me “The Decision” was a PR disaster comparable to Michael Richards’ racist rant: the kind of fuck-up you can’t just forget about, so tactless and self-absorbed an act that it defines the person at hand completely. I don’t know how to watch Lebron, or Kramer, without revisiting those respective moments.
A die hard Magic fan, I was happy to buy into the common knocks on the Heat, even intertwining my own half-baked notion of “better basketball” while I was at it. You can’t just throw three great players on a franchise, I would tell my friends, and call it a team. My Magic, and after they failed, the Celtics, were the foils of choice: deep teams that moved the ball, focused on defense, and won with corner threes and well-set picks. The things that good basketball are about, amirite?
A good friend, Chris Toner, made the point that Lebron is looking considerably more cool-headed and collected than he ever was under pressure with the Cavs. More broadly, I have to admit that the Heat are playing a brand of ball that is aesthetically easier to swallow, harder to hate. I maintain my main stylistic objection: the Heat are just too top-heavy. But Wade and James, the elite playmakers that they are, have a way of making guys like Mike Bibby appear to be capable of contributing to beautiful team basketball.
Furthermore, as Jeff Van Gundy pointed out on ABC’s game one broadcast: we’re a nation with a history of tolerating athletes who have committed horrible, violent crimes. Is it fair to hate a guy for choosing where he works? Heat fans like to say that the people just need a villian. Yes, that’s partly true.
And friends tell me I’m just too pot-committed to allow myself to stop hating the Heat now. I’ll admit there might be something to that.
But even having abandoned ESPN’s talking points, my gut-level objection can be boiled down to what this team to fundamentally about. The big three, Haslem, Miller and Bibby all accepted less than their market value to get a ring the easy way. Yes, you can frame it as a “sacrifice” made for the sake of “winning” — but winning on what terms? In a city that doesn’t care, on a team built from one year’s worth of free agent signings?
And with three of the league’s fifteen best players, two of whom put their adoring franchises through hell before abandoning them.
H.I.D.I.A. co-founder Paolo put it best when he wrote that this team’s cardinal sin remains “wimping out and approaching the concept of greatness without courage or leadership or inspiration.” Or grace, I’ll add. And I refuse to get behind that.