Friday, June 10, 2011

BDT -- Heat Squarely on Miami (June 10)

It's just so confusing why the spotlight would be so harsh on's not like they asked for it or anything...
With every free throw dropping through the net and every second ticking off the clock, the tension in the American Airlines Center builds. Swish! Swish! As the clock agonizingly winds to zeros, the utter defeat of the moment etches itself onto their faces; unmistakable and clear as day, as if Brooks was carving his famous “Brooks was here” onto their foreheads instead of the Shawshank halfway house. That type of defeat is hard for any of us to describe or understand. It’s more than being defeated by your friends in Xbox Live. It’s more than being defeated in your local rec league softball tournament. I suppose it would be more like being defeated in your local rec league softball tournament, only if you were beaten in the final inning of the championship game after the other teams uncoordinated, overweight catcher (Fred) smacks a walkoff two run homer with two outs. And also if your team (comprised of Americans) was playing in Iran. And Fred is actually named Ahmed. And tens of millions of people are watching you. And they all hate you. Yep, that’s the kind of defeat I’m talking about.

After another underwhelming crunch time performance, Lebron James and the Miami Heat are now under the ultimate microscope, having been pushed to the brink of ultimate failure by a Dallas team that can aptly be described as Miami’s polar opposite. Make no mistake about it; if Miami is unable to win the next two games and take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the entire season will be a failure. Fair or unfair, this unprecedented gathering of superstars was built for one purpose and one purpose only; to win the championship. Anything short of accomplishing that goal has to be deemed a failure.

Of course, even as I write the words ‘fair or unfair,’ a significant debate rages as to which is reality. Is it unrealistic to judge the entire season on whether or not a championship banner is hung? Is it unfair to put such a glaring spotlight on this team and its individual players (specifically Lebron)? There are those in the media who would scoff at the idea of a Miami loss equating to a total season failure. Then again, there are those in the media who are completely out of touch with reality…and generally speaking, those are the same people who make it a practice to formulate excuses for the Miami Heat, such as the “fatigue” excuse, or the “everyone is against them, we can’t understand what they’re dealing with” excuse.

Never before, in my short lifetime, have I seen a team hated the way Miami is hated and to say that “everyone is against them” or “they stand alone” is absolutely true. The intense scrutiny and pressure Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and (especially) Lebron James face night in and night out is completely unprecedented. They are, essentially, the embodiment of evil in the NBA. However, as glaring as the spotlight is and as strong as the vitriol has been, it simply cannot be used as an excuse. See, it’s one thing if my rec league softball team is hated by the local Columbus natives. Being disliked is certainly not for everyone, especially if it’s completely unprovoked. However, if I’m dumb enough to take my softball team over to Iran for a season, then I have only myself to blame for the ensuing hatred.

Looking back, that is essentially what Lebron James and the Miami Heat have done. They willingly chose to take their games into hostile territory with the clear message that they cannot be stopped. It isn’t like Lebron and Bosh were drafted by Miami. It isn’t like they all developed in the organization together. This was a clear mercenary move on their part and, worst of all; they made the conscious decision to rub it in everyone’s face. In case you forgot, here’s the sequence of events:

·         Lebron and Bosh quit on their respective teams.
·         Bosh leaves Toronto high and dry by signing with Miami.
·         Lebron does “The Decision,” which is by far the single most self-aggrandizing act ever hosted on ESPN. In this arrogance filled hour, Lebron announced he would be “taking his talents to South Beach,” thus stabbing Cleveland in the back on national television.
·         The newly dubbed ‘Big Three’ hold a championship celebration…before the season starts.
·         The ‘Big Three’ constantly clash with their coach. This featured Lebron clearly shoulder bumping Spoelstra and Chris Bosh talking about wanting to “be chill”…or something stupid like that.
·         Lebron and his cohorts once again celebrate like they’ve won the Finals…after defeating a depleted Celtics team in the second round.
·         Lebron puts together Quitness 2.0 in last Tuesday’s Game 4.

Just when you thought Miami had run out of ways to polarize themselves, they pull an entirely new trick out of the bag Thursday morning. In the morning shoot around prior to that night’s pivotal Game 5; both D-Wade and Lebron took the liberty of openly mocking Dirk Nowitzki’s health in front of the TV cameras. Dirk, as we all know, played Game 4 with a sinus infection and a 100+ degree temperature. Though Dirk struggled for the majority of the game, he was able to come through with yet another big 4th quarter; capping it off with a game winning layup. Yet, despite falling shy of expectations, mostly due to the 4th quarter heroics of Dirk, the two stars felt no shame in sending some verbal barbs towards Nowitzki. columnist Tim McMahon wrote this about the incident; “As they walked out of the American Airlines Center after Thursday mornings shootaround, Wade and James pretended to cough and wheeze, smirking as they repeatedly covered their mouths with their shirts while being filmed by Miami CBS affiliate WFOR. ‘Whoa, did ya’ll hear me cough? I think I’m sick,’ Wade said before turning towards James and chuckling.”

You stay classy Wade and Lebron!

So, you’ll have to excuse me if I’m less than sympathetic towards Miami for having to face all this scrutiny. The thing is, the spotlight they so readily shine on themselves during the good times shines with the same glare in the bad times. The truth is they turned that spotlight on themselves the moment they put pen to paper and held a celebration. 

No excuses can be made, no apologist accepted. Miami chose this path and it is more than fair to judge them appropriately. No excuses can be made for Bosh’s crunch time fear, no excuses can be made if Wade is banged up, and no excuses can be made for Lebron’s 4th quarter failures. Lebron; if you thought Game 5 was “the biggest game of your life” then you have no idea what’s coming. The entire sports world will be watching to pick apart every error and every shortcoming. We all want you to fail. We all want to pick at your corpse like hungry buzzards. Perhaps you’re confused as to why we all hate you, perhaps you don’t understand…but you should…because you wanted it and asked for it.

There’s no excuse for Miami. Two home games, two opportunities to fulfill expectations. If Miami thought the pressure was high before, just wait until Sunday night. At this point, Dallas has nothing to lose! They weren’t supposed to be here and they weren’t supposed to make this a series. Sure, it’ll sting if they can’t close the deal, but the pressure they face is nowhere near what Miami will be dealing with. The eyes of the entire sports world is on them, two notoriously poor big game players will be heavily depended on, they’ll be facing the best money player in the game right now, they’ll only have the support of one of the worst home crowds in the NBA, and the balance of their season and their individual legacies will be on the line. If they thought the regular season was tough, then they better be ready, because the heat is squarely on Miami.


Prediction: Heat come out strong in Game 6 to force Game 7. Dallas takes a tightly contested Game 7. If you’re asking me to choose between Lebron/Bosh over Dirk/Terry in a big game then I’ll definitely take Dallas. Wade’s injury is a huge factor Sunday night. Since Lebron is barely playing to Shawn Marion’s level, Wade has to be able to carry the load. If he is compromised in the slightest, Dallas could have an easy road in Game 6.

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