If you still don't like the Miami Heat, and claim to be a fan of good basketball, then you need to step aside and stop blocking our view of the court. There are endless reasons to despise the way this team was created, and the way the players on this team repeatedly act. But you and I cannot and should not hate what they've given us over the last month. And I say that as an NBA fan that is a week and a half removed from watching the Heat trample all over my hometown team.
"Hate" is a strong word. Most of our parents reminded us of such growing up. I can tell you without blinking that the word "hate" was literally banned from my vocabulary by my recovering-hippie parents for the duration of the 1980s. And save for five months, I lived for the duration of the entire 1980s.
"Hate" is also something that sports fans like to talk about, quite a bit. I have a friend, an extremely erudite and well-meaning mate, who cops to hating (his word) Dirk Nowitzki. I think he's the only one in North America to feel as such. Write anything ill-tempered about Stephen Jackson, and apparently you hate all of North Carolina. God forbid you question Kobe Bryant's 20-footers, hater. And the Miami Heat? Well, that's something else. I wrote three paragraphs about how Mario Chalmers' foot was on the line Sunday night, while pointing out throughout that it had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. Eight trillion people saw the headline, refused to read beyond that, and let loose with the "hater."
There never was hate, from me, regarding this team. It took too much time, and I've 29 other teams to deal with. Disappointment, though, was prevalent. I was endlessly despondent when it came to the Heat, which is strange because in a vacuum I was profoundly happy that LeBron James left Cleveland. Not because I hated Cleveland, but because the Cavs beyond James were not a good or even adequate basketball team. I wanted a player of James' caliber to play with a better supporting cast. This sort of extreme -- tuning up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- wasn't on my wish list, but at least it was better than what he had in Cleveland, and I would have been disappointed in the guy had he followed the money, soaked in the goodwill, and stayed with the Cavs.
Everything that followed, though, was miserable. Right down to the choice of venue, this expansion-era team that no organic fan seemed to follow unless 55 or more wins were in the offing. With the incessantly annoying public address announcer that yells "Dos …" while expecting the crowd to yell back "minuto" as if they've seen enough Heat games to know that the PA announcer used to yell out "DOS MINOTOS" with two minutes left in a quarter. I know there are longtime Heat fans who are really, really into the legacy of Keith Askins, but even the junkies need to know that the rest of the crew has just about ruined them in the rest of the world's eyes.
The Heat team, though, has not. And not because of the way that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and (coming back, Sunday) Chris Bosh have responded to playoff pressure. But because of the month and a half of brilliant, engaging basketball this team has given us, without many blowouts to fast forward through.
This hasn't happened in a while. Whether they win this Finals or not, the Heat have initiated a litany of classic, nail-biting ballgames spread from Miami to Boston to Chicago to Dallas. This has been a joy to behold. And, again, not just because of the stage that allows LeBron James to take over in the presence of those who haven't been paying attention over the last eight years, or the re-re-emergence of Dwyane Wade, or the realization that Chris Bosh is that damn good. But because this team has been the spark behind over a month's worth of basketball, played with warm weather just about everywhere, that has us an inch away from the TV.
That, to me, is enough for sainthood. Clearly the combatants play a part, and Boston, Chicago and Dallas have all enjoyed engaging and close contests in the series leading up to their respective turns with Miami. But for some reason this thread runs straight with Miami. All stars, All-Stars, no depth, still learning, guided by a brain in Erik Spoelstra that is much, much bigger than ours, keeping things close. Even in defeat. And even, as you walk hand-in-hand with your better half after missing the one game you didn't watch live because it was your birthday and she asked that you do something else, hearing that the Heat were "thumped," in what turned out to be your hometown team's last hurrah.
Someone asked Twitter to make a wish last night, and I asked for four more games. We can prattle on endlessly about legacies and shots that shouldn't have counted and bench work and great D and missed 3s and all the things that go into a team winning a 48-minute game by two points. We can do that, we should do that, and we will do that. Forever and ever, amen. But we also have to take a step back, away from all the Synergy, and realize what we have, 'ere.
I just want four more of these, if it's at all possible. I've watched the team that made my city proud win six titles in eight years. I've watched, live on TBS, Larry Bird steal that ball off of Isiah Thomas' in-bound pass. I've watched Kobe and Shaq grow up before my very eyes, topping it off with a lob to seal the deal. I've seen greatness, from the comfort of several cushions.
But Sunday night? That was fun. That was so much fun. And I know there were turnovers and missed shots and that the game-winner was the sort of lame 18-footer that Antonio Davis used to hit. I get all that. It was so rewarding, though. So engaging. So outrageous, even if the score was in the 80s. Four more, please.
And after a stressful year almost entirely of their own design, I'm not ready to stop watching the Miami Heat yet. Who'd have expected that?