There are Miami Heat fans everywhere. They may not bother to show up for the first quarter of home playoff games, but any trip to a grocery store in burgs either big or small will likely result in some sort of Heat paraphernalia making its way pass your furrowed brow. And for those of us media-types that cover Heat games outside of Miami? It’s a constant stream of, “get a load of this guy,” as we watch some doofus Heat fan in a Dwyane Wade jersey whoop it up in the face of 20,000 other fans that are rooting against the hated defending champions.
Where did these dudes come from? Homegrown Miami followers that know what Michael Beasley was traded for in 2010 are one thing, we love those fans; but the Heat “fans” that live in other states? What gives?
Heat sharpshooter Ray Allen, in a typically thoughtful, must-read interview, has an idea. He thinks that their existence is my fault, it’s Tony Kornheiser’s fault, it’s ESPN’s fault … it’s the media’s fault. From a (again, very good and must-read) talk with Dan Steinberg (MEDIA!) at The Washington Post:
“When we go on the road, you see people in Heat jerseys that have never been to Miami,” Allen said with a smile. “We were in Utah, and I thought that same thought — like, these people, some of these people, have never been to Miami before. I think it’s the machine of SportsCenter….Look at all the media outlets, from First Take to PTI to Around the Horn, that talk about the same stuff. We haven’t played for two weeks, and I think every time I turn on SportsCenter, they talked about LeBron in some form. And he hasn’t done anything but just be on vacation. So as much as we blame the fans for being bandwagon, it’s mostly the media’s fault. Because the media’s the one that continues to feed the machine.”
If by “machine” you mean “the easily distracted and easily influenced,” then sure. We’ve fed the easily distracted and easily influenced the machine.
For years I haven’t so much defended as I have explained away people that are younger than me for rooting for teams outside of their geographical reach. LeBron James is only five years younger than me, and I was a kid staring at SportsCenter and CNN sports highlights while slurping down cereal before school in the late 1980s, but LeBron’s generation still got to grow up with the full influence of what SportsCenter and eventually the internet provided.
ESPN basically became USA Today at everyone’s doorstep, where national intrigue outranked local stories, and the Dallas Cowboys seemed far more relevant to a youngster than the NFL team working some 35 minutes away from their bedroom. This is why, for a lot of people LeBron’s age and younger, none of their favorite teams resided close to their area code.
In 2012-13 I wrote twice as many words, if not more, about the Los Angeles Lakers than I did the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers’ season ended nearly two full months before San Antonio’s, at the hands of the Spurs in embarrassing fashion, but I don’t feel an ounce of regret for our obsession. Los Angeles, whether they fulfilled their promise or collapsed in a heap, was far more interesting than San Antonio. Heck, before Miami’s winning streak, Memphis, Indiana, Washington, Philadelphia, Golden State, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Houston were far more interesting than the Miami Heat. That’s how these things sometimes shake out.
Not every basketball junkie wears a uniform or hat out in public. Then again, not every uniform or hat-sporter is a basketball junkie. Massive amounts of uniform-wearers couldn’t tell you how the amnesty provision (that thing that just cost the Heat Mike Miller) works, and yet the scads of online obsessives that know all about such NBA minutiae wouldn’t be caught dead rocking a uniform in broad daylight. It’s this weird relationship that doesn’t have anything to do with jock vs. nerd, because the nerd-dom runs rampant on both sides, as does sound amateur basketball ability. It’s just the usual steps some take when insecurity over their particular fandom forces them into overreaching.
Like rooting for a team they didn’t grow up with. Or buying a Miami jersey to wear around Washington D.C.
The media didn’t create Miami Heat fans. Pat Riley and the Miami Heat created Miami Heat fans. The Miami Heat put together a fascinating story in 2010, pairing a championship-less LeBron James with a more successful contemporary in Dwyane Wade, a goofball talent in Chris Bosh, and a borderline-neophyte head coach in Erik Spoelstra. The reason the team was on TV and in print so much is not because of some agenda – you guys may not think it, but 98 times out of 100 we get to choose what we write about – but because this was a story worth covering to no end. The Heat, even after two titles, remain fascinating.
Bandwagon Heat fans in our nation’s capital, and Salt Lake City, the lower bowl of the United Center in Chicago, and across the globe appear to agree. I’m not entirely sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it’s a thing that cannot be swiftly and incorrectly attributed to the media’s obsession with a team worth obsessing over.
With that in place, Allen went on to make some fantastic points about the curiosity of fandom, and we very much encourage you to read his interview with the Post. And it’s not because we’re trying to sell you Heat jerseys.
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