Monday, June 6, 2011

Stop the Heat Hate

For the past 11 months, the most hated team in sports has been the Miami Heat. Lebron James, the player most responsible for the eruption of hatred, started the revolution with The Decision, a one hour ESPN special dedicated to the announcement of his free agency signing.  Immediately, every fan in Cleveland, as well as millions of NBA fans across the country, began bashing Lebron's decision to "take his talents to South Beach." It was looked at as a betrayal of his hometown team and fans who poured their souls and emotion into this team over the past seven seasons.  But the other knock on Lebron, the one that I think is a much harsher attack on him, was his desire to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They say Jordan would have never done that. He would have stayed in Chicago to build something himself.

The problem with this statement, however, is how incredibly unfair it is to Lebron James. For the entire 2009-10 season, the Cavs seemed like they would be the favorites to win the NBA Championship. But in the series against Boston, it became clear to everyone, even Lebron, that the Cavs didn't have what it took to reach the top.  Cavs fans have blamed Lebron for everything over the past year. Instead, they should have pointed the fingers at the front office. Blame Dan Gilbert, Cavs owner. Blame Danny Ferry, Cavs GM from 2005-2010, and even blame Chris Grant, Cavs GM for the weeks leading up to The Decision. The summer of 2010 was arguably the biggest free agency season of the history of free agency in all sports.  Many of the league's biggest stars were signing mega contracts with their current teams, or moving to greener pastures.  The Cavs were focused on signing Lebron, but failed to make even one other big signing that would convince King James to stay in Cleveland.

There is no doubt in my mind that Lebron is the best player in the league. The Cavaliers, who were essentially the same team this year sans Lebron, were absolutely horrendous. They were comically bad at times.  They were "sports movie underdog team before a remarkable transformation" bad. Except that transformation never really came.  Has a team ever taken such a catastrophic dive after the loss of ONE SINGLE player? Lebron didn't leave Cleveland to spite his hometown fans. He left Cleveland to ensure we would talk about him for decades to come as one of the best to ever play the game.  As a champion.

I understand why people want to hate the Heat. I do. They're the New York Yankees of the NBA. The Dallas Cowboys of basketball. The Duke Blue Devils of professional ball. But we only hate them because they're great. Because for the next 7 or 8 years, they will be better than your favorite team. By a mile. Nobody really hates the Yankees because they win all time. We hate the Yankees because they beat our team all the time.  Essentially, we hate them, because we're jealous.  And the Heat are the same.  Personally, I've been a Lebron fan since he was in high school. Watched him on ESPN, and could tell he just had that IT factor. The piece of him that makes him a superstar, the intangible factor that can't be defined.  Despite my ties to the 76ers, (who are still my favorite team) I've always rooted for Lebron. Not necessarily for the Cavs, but just hoping that Lebron would win a ring. Or six. Or seven.  I like Wade, Bosh, Spoelstra and the rest, but for me, it's about Lebron getting his championships. I have a weak spot for greatness, and to me, that's what we're witnessing.  I remember rooting for Jordan in the finals when I was a kid, knowing that I was watching greatness in action. I'll never forget watching Jordan hit the shot against the Jazz to seal the 1998 Championship. And I know I'll never forget watching these Heat win rings over the next few years.

Don't hate the Heat for being great. Don't hate Lebron for moving to Miami. Embrace the opportunity to watch this team, and appreciate how much more interesting Lebron has made the NBA.

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