I have never claimed to be an expert. I’m just a basketball fan who cares way too much for his own good. That’s why I allow myself to not only have rooting interests in the game, and make them pretty well known. I’ve always been vocal about my love for LeBron James and Stephen Curry, never-ending worry about the Boston Celtics, and incredible frustration about the fact that Dwight Howard isn’t universally despised by basketball fans. I like to think that even though I am far from afraid to voice my opinions, those opinions never cloud my judgment when I evaluate what is going on in the NBA.
The Miami Heat have not lost in one month. That is what’s going on in the NBA right now. They’ve collected thirteen straight wins thanks to a truly historic stretch of basketball by LeBron James, the best stretch of the season by Dwyane Wade, and a number of other timely contributions from a supporting cast that sometimes seems a little overqualified to be considered just a supporting cast. In the midst of this, the Heat have accomplished something that goes beyond the box scores. They’ve shed that elusive villain tag that so many people placed on them in the summer of 2010. They’ve become the loveable Goliath of the NBA in part because of amazing singular talent, breath-taking fast breaks, and on-court team chemistry that occasionally seems to be far ahead of any other team in the league. But this transformation from heel to face goes beyond the collective success on the court.
After the Indiana Pacers handled the Heat in game three of the Eastern Conference semis last year I wrote a scathing piece about how much I disliked the Heat. It was fueled by the loss, but there was definitely some resentment towards the team that never quite seemed like the team I was used to watching LeBron James play for in Cleveland the previous few seasons. It was LeBron and a group of misfits running teams out of the gym and laughing, dancing, and taking family photos while doing it. You knew they loved playing together. It was close to two full seasons together, and I wasn’t getting the impression that was ever going to happen with the Miami Heat. The rest is history.
LeBron took his game to another level for the next fifteen games, Dwyane Wade transformed into Robin (What’s up Skip?), and everything else fell into place. The pressure was off after the first ring came, and this year it’s glaringly obvious that the Heat are playing with a different mentality than ever before. The Heat are playing like a team that knows they can take their game to another level when need be. The tenseness and constant discussion of “Who’s taking the last shot?” is long gone. Even when that late game situation presents itself, it seems like it is solved organically rather than through a long and constant struggle in the huddle and in the media afterwards. They’ve got a title under their belt; they don’t need to answer to the media.
For the first time in two years, I see this Heat team the same way I saw those Cavaliers teams in the past. LeBron is LeBron. He’s the most talented basketball player in the last twenty years, the best athlete in the history of basketball, and has mentally mastered the game like so few have before him. Dwyane Wade has gone from a player I legitimately disliked, to a player I love to hate and hate to love. He’s the most overqualified “Robin” in the league. In that same breath, Chris Bosh is the most overqualified third wheel, and the best photo bomber in the league. The rest of the fifteen man roster falls into place just as the remaining fourteen did back in Cleveland. They do the dirty work, hit open threes, and give their best impressions of college cheerleaders when they are sitting on the bench. But like I said, the Heat transformation into the likeable winners has been an off the court endeavor as well.
The Heat are putting on a show before the game begins by holding their own pseudo dunk contests, much to the dismay of one Skip Bayless, who will grasp at the shortest straws when trying to criticize LeBron James. LeBron, Wade and Miami native James Jones attended a Miami Hurricanes game a few weeks back. And do I even need to mention the Harlem Shake video? I’ve watched it at least 25 times and find something new to laugh at every time I watch it (Check out my evaluation of the Heat Harlem Shake video over at my blog LaterNamed). Is there any doubt LeBron and the rest of the Cavaliers would’ve made a video like this? Not one bit.
This is what I love about this Heat team. They’ve coupled that on the court success with off the court likeability, which is an extremely rare combination to find in professional sports. They’ve won convincingly against the Clippers, ugly against the Grizzlies, and impressively on the road against the Thunder. LeBron James is putting together the best individual season of basketball in 10 years… 20 years… 30 years? And as a team, you can see they are having fun doing it all. What’s not to love?
It’s easy to let your opinion of an athlete or team mess with your perspective about what is going on in the world of sports. But this time, what’s going on in the world of sports is changing my ideas about the Miami Heat. Maybe it’s because of the win streak. Maybe it’s because of the Harlem Shake. Maybe it’s because of the level of mastery LeBron James is at. But I can’t fight this feeling anymore. Finally, I have to call myself a Miami Heat fan.