Success doing little to erase villain label from Heat, LeBron
The Miami Heat, with its trio of All Stars, are deadlocked 2-2 with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. The success the team is currently enjoying would seem to lend itself to more widespread support from basketball fans and vindicate the widely criticized trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh for their decision to team up last summer.
That is not the case.
While the venom may have subsided a bit, the animosity is still there. Bosh is still lampooned as being the third man in a two-man show and James still has to answer legacy questions on a near-nightly basis.
It is easy to understand why people in Cleveland are upset and root against James and the Heat, but why has the anger towards Miami persisted for so long elsewhere, especially in parts of the country that never had a shot at signing James to begin with? Simple: Miami has been good. People, in general, love stories about hardscrabble underdogs clawing tooth and nail to get to the top. Hoosiers was a great basketball movie in part because they weren’t supposed to do what they did. The same is true of the movie Rudy. How many people would have watched if the movie Rudy featured the title character giving up on his dreams because the other players were so much better than he?
The public loves an underdog, not an overdog with the deck stacked heavily in its favor. But that is exactly what Miami became when Pat Riley brought the three players together. That was followed by acts of brashness as Miami seemed to hold a championship celebration in July, bringing out its freshly signed players amidst smoke and fireworks. The pomp and circumstance oozed of arrogance and entitlement and served to make Miami public enemy No. 1 overnight.
The media began covering the Heat like it was the original Dream Team. ESPN dedicated ample airtime to covering every mundane aspect of the Heat, shoving the team down America’s throat like a spoiled chunk of liver that no one was particularly in the mood for. News about other NBA teams was virtually nonexistent unless it was other teams’ players commenting on Miami, and fans began to resent the Heat even more.
People began critiquing the composition of the team, picking out every flaw they could find: James and Wade don’t complement each other, there aren’t enough shots to go around, the bench is as thin as rice paper. Outside of Miami, people were rooting for the Heat to fall flat, and NBA fans cheered the dysfunction in South Beach that accompanied the team to a 9-8 record to start the season.
But slowly, Miami became the juggernaut they were predicted to be. The Heat may not have won 70-plus games, but they finished second in the East and cruised into the NBA Finals with little trouble along the way. Now they sit just two wins from winning an NBA title less than a year after creating their super team, and if they win a title, it will be an achievement that will likely cement their legacy in many fans’ hearts as a prime example of everything wrong with the NBA.
Had the Heat not come off as arrogant from the very start, had they instead sat down with reporters and been humble about where they were as a team and understanding of the feelings of fans across the nation who were not sure what to make of this new power in the East, the reception this Heat team would be getting by now would likely be much different. But there was never a moment of modesty or self-deprecating humor from the Heat; there was defensiveness, standoffishness, and a mentality that everything that went wrong was everyone else’s fault, whether it was the media for over-hyping incidents during the season or the fans for not being understanding and forgiving enough.
Had the Heat been humble (for example, not branding themselves as “The Heatles”), avoided the temptation to lash out at detractors, and taken their lumps in stride, then they would have eventually won over the public. Being a humble team that persevered through the media firestorm and initial fan backlash to reach the NBA Finals, all the while growing as a team and as people, would have been the thing of legend. That narrative would have been eaten up by the public. This team is just not capable of that, and that reasoning starts at the top.
James, the villain wearing the blackest hat in this tale, has never been one to be humble in the face of criticism or adversity.
After losing in the playoffs to the Orlando Magic in 2009, James walked off the court without shaking the hands of any Magic player. After not speaking to the media after that game, he was quoted in an NBA.com article as saying, “It doesn’t make sense for me to go over and shake somebody’s hand.” He was quoted in an ESPN story a few months later saying that it isn’t a rule that players go shake the hands of their opponents after a loss, saying, “It’s something that is not done in the NBA.” When a reporter corrected James, saying that most players usually shake hands at the end of a playoff series as an act of good sportsmanship, he said “no you don’t, no you don’t.”
That incident is similar to James’ adamant denial that he and Wade celebrated in front of the Mavericks’ bench after Wade hit a big three-point shot in the fourth quarter of Game 2. James denied it was a celebration, everyone and their mother corrected him, he continued to deny it.
Now contrast James’ reactions to Michael Jordan. After a Game 7 loss to the Detroit Pistons during the 1990 playoffs, Jordan congratulated the Pistons players who had just beaten him up for seven games. He then told CBS Sports sportscaster Pat O’Brien after the game, “All you can do is wish them good luck. I mean, we fought hard; they were the better team. We went to a seven-game series. What more can we ask for? We want to be where they are, but we still got to wait our turn; we’re still trying to improve our team. They were the better team, and they played better today.
“I’m disappointed because I wanted to go further, but I got to accept the season that we played. We had a good season. We got this far. We got to look forward to next season. That’s the only thing we can do.”
That humility is the difference between the two superstars and why, for all the arrogance Jordan exuded, he is still revered today. Jordan’s arrogance arose from hard work and perseverance; nothing was handed to him. Everyone remembers how he was cut from his high school’s varsity basketball team as a sophomore and how he battled to get past teams like the Boston Celtics and Pistons as a pro before finally winning a championship. He was cocky but also humble, which is most likely a result of his path taken to greatness.
James, on the other hand, grew up with everything being handed to him. He was never cut from his high school basketball team, never had to scrape his way to the top. People were constantly telling him how great he was, and out of that grew a sense of entitlement to be the best. James’ talent as a basketball player is undeniable, but he is also a player who entered the NBA straight out of high school with the nickname “King James.” That hardly gives a player proper perspective.
That sense of entitlement also explains the decision James made last summer. When he realized that winning a championship was too hard for him, he chose to leave the Cavaliers for Miami and his NBA friends in the hopes that stacking the deck would lead to an easier path to the championship he feels he is owed.
Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a story on June 5, speculating that the reasoning behind the backlash for James joining a team with more than one superstar in order to win a championship is that it did not arise organically. While Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird all had help in winning multiple titles, neither left their teams to play with someone else. They stuck with their original team and a championship-caliber team was assembled around them.
Sticking it out with the team that drafted you and battling through adversity is a hallmark of what many consider a champion. James, however, did not possess the patience to do this. He was tired of not winning the championship every year, so he enlisted the help of friends he felt could get him to where he felt he belonged — at the top. He did not want to persevere through the battles; he just wanted the sweet reward.
James had every right to leave Cleveland if he wanted. But choosing to join other superstars in pursuit of an easy title, then taking part in a pre-championship championship celebration and attacking everyone who criticized the mistakes he made has permanently affixed that black hat to James’ head.
The Miami Heat is not a lovable team — unless you live in Miami, that is. They are a team full of egos that need constant massaging, and in the real world where most NBA fans live, that reality doesn’t play very well.
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