FreeDarko's Bethlehem Shoals, a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse and co-author of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (visit the FreeDarko store, too!), is keeping a game-by-game diary of the Heat's season — the one you're pretending not to care about.
Note: Bethlehem Shoals is taking the next couple of columns off because of a scheduling conflict. Filling in for him is Eric Freeman, a FreeDarko regular and one of the authors of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History.
Result: Heat 109, Raptors 100
Saturday's win over Toronto was the kind of win against inferior competition you'd expect to see roughly 30 or 40 times from the Heat this season. The Raptors fought hard and made it close — they trailed by single digits for the most of the game and cut the lead to four in the fourth quarter — but the Heat are simply too talented to let teams like Toronto hang around for long. Games like this one tell us little we didn't already know about Miami, which is both a product of watching Wade and LeBron for years and a reality of any team's progression over an 82-game season. Sometimes you get what you expect.
The sharpest complaint you can levy against the Heat for this relatively narrow win is that they didn't look very excited to be there. While that attitude can partially be explained by the lackluster opponent and maybe even the team's general egotism, their fans also deserve some credit. Because the American Airlines Arena has to have one of the worst atmospheres I've ever heard in my many years of watching the NBA. Its national reputation is getting so bad, in fact, that the organization has challenged their fans' commitment to the team, imploring them to "Fan Up." Consider this studiedly diverse video:
The team has also printed up this list of "Fan Up" guidelines to make sure fans don't embarrass themselves any further:
Oh, and they've also cut concession prices before tip-off so people show up early. With these nominal cuts, a 20-ounce Coke is now an amazing bargain. Who wouldn't want to show up 15 minutes early for that?
These ideas are a step in the right direction, I suppose, but corporate fan promotions rarely result in a legitimate homecourt advantage. The problem in Miami is cultural rather than merely an issue of fans not wearing the same color shirt, and it's unclear if their noise deficit has an easy solution.
To be sure, the Heat haven't started this season as they were supposed to — particularly at home — but Miami has sat on its hands even during championship runs. In 2006, Heat crowds didn't bother to make much noise for Wade and Shaq, and the Florida Marlins haven't caught on with local fans despite winning the World Series in two of their first 11 seasons. In most cities — in Cleveland, let's say — this run of championships would constitute a golden age for local sports. In South Beach, they're teaching their fans how to cheer.
Maybe the crowds will improve — after all, the fans haven't had very long to warm to their new acquisitions. But if the Heat faithful can't get excited about Pat Riley gifting them a contender over the course of a few days, what exactly will change their approach to the team? There's been a good deal of criticism of the Big Three for acting as if an NBA title is an entitlement. Yet the fans are even worse, acting as if this roster is an everyday fact of the NBA instead of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The Heat excited me this summer because they had the chance to establish a stronghold of villainy in a league that seriously needs new storylines. But to be effectively evil, you need a lair. One does not simply walk into Mordor, but it's a hell of a lot easier when the Orcs seem pretty indifferent to your presence. Perhaps playing away from home, where everyone hates the Big Three, is the only way the Heat can exist in a proper context, because more and more Miami is looking — and sounding — like a vacuum.
Eric Freeman is a writer and editor from San Francisco. He writes several times daily on Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie. He is also a FreeDarko regular and one of the authors of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. Follow him on Twitter.
Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of FreeDarko.com and a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse. You can buy The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History and lots of other stuff at the FreeDarko store.