Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Heat is On. Again.

So when the Miami Heat started last season, their first one with LeBron James and Chris Bosh on board to play Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson to Dwyane Wade's Neal Peart, around the .500 mark, there was wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth, and widespread speculation that Pat Riley was about to dump coach Erik Spoelstra and take over the reins of the team himself.
This did not happen. The Heat straightened themselves out, and had a largely successful year.
They did not, however, win the NBA title. And as such, there was rumbling that Spoelstra was going to get fired.
This did not happen, and the Heat started this year with Spoelstra as their coach. They played extremely well, considering the Benny Hill sketch of a condensed schedule the NBA threw out there. But when they hit a rough patch, largely due to injuries, the rumblings were back. The team wasn't jelling. LBJ and D-Wade (and how lazy do you have to be to abbreviate a guy's name to something with THE EXACT SAME NUMBER OF SYLLABLES) couldn't play together because their skills overlapped. You get the idea.
Spoelstra was not fired. The team lumbered into the playoffs and immediately went down, 2-1 to a fresh, exciting Indiana Pacers team that had no players anyone had ever heard of. Miami was in turmoil. The team was going to get blown up, starting with injured star Chris Bosh. Spoelstra was gone. LBJ couldn't handle pressure. Wade - well, Wade was immune to criticism, despite having a game 3 that was very A.J.-Burnett-at-Yankee-Stadium. But you get the idea. Kaboom. Heat can't win under pressure, Spoelstra can't coach, etc. Blow it all up.
Except, of course, that the Heat woke up and then brutalized the Pacers three straight to close out the series. Wade and James clicked and had some truly monstrous games. On came the Celtics, fresh off a Londo-G'kar deathmatch with the scrappy, undermanned 76ers. Needless to say, the Celts immediately put the Heat in a 3-2 hole and looked poised to eliminate them. Again, Spoelstra was gone. Again, the team - despite firm statements to the contrary from the front office - was going to get blown up. Umpteenth verse, same as the first.
And  of course, the Heat woke up and left a leprechaun-green smear on the bottoms of their sneakers. 4-3, Heat win the series, and on to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals. The Thunder are favored, and the talk is about how if the Heat doesn't win, and James doesn't star and get Finals MVP and throw down the game-winning dunk in the last seconds of the last game, then his legacy is tarnished forever and Spoelstra is gone.
All of which suggests to me that there are people out there, many in the sports media, who get unhealthily attached to narratives and will attempt to cram them in at a moment's provocation. They decided a while ago that Pat Riley coaching the LBJ/Wade/Bosh triumvirate was a better story than some random dude who'd never coached the Lakers doing it, and they've been pushing for it ever since.  This is, I think, both bad narrative and bad journalism.
There are narratives there with this Heat team, compelling ones. Will James be able to fulfill his massive talent and claim a title? Can he put the ill-omened Decision behind him and earn the fan base's love? Can the Dream Team experiment work in an NBA setting? Can Chris Bosh thrive in the shadows of metaphorical giants? And of course there's Spoelstra, who is the first Filipino-American coach of a major professional sports franchise and who's done nothing but win since he was handed the reins of the team.
But that's not good enough for some. They want the equivalent of a Heavy Metal cartoon, with Pat Riley riding a dragon and wielding an axe as he swoops down to court side to rescue the day. Excellence and striving, need not apply.
And honestly, that's kind of sad.
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