When the Miami Heat won its only LeBronless title, in 2006, I was living outside Fort Lauderdale. My building fees included basic cable, which was enough to get just about every Heat game and virtually nothing else worth watching. My girlfriend at the time could tolerate basketball well enough — better, in fact, than we could generally tolerate one another. So there were abundant Heat games on at my place.
It helped, too, that they were a great bunch to adopt. Even though Shaq brought his Shaqonian cachet and Dwyane Wade was developing into a Category 5 2-guard, the Heat wasn't a glamor team. They were the hometown boys, and they felt more blue-collar than White Hot or whatever. They had do-whatever-it-takes guys like James Posey and Udonis Haslem, and late-career Alonzo Mourning and Jason Williams and Gary Payton chipping in as role players hungry for their first titles, and Antoine Walker at the height of his curious powers. (For all his baffling chuckerism Walker was the only Heat player to appear in every game that season, and he hit more than 10 times as many 3-pointers as Wade.) There were flaws all around — Wade was fourth in the NBA in turnovers, Shaq missed more than half his free throws, the veterans were all sort of insane — but of course that only made them more endearing. Practically everyone seemed to be getting the most out of his talent, which is all it really takes to make a city proud.
The night they won the title my girlfriend insisted we go to the beach instead of watching the game, so I set the VCR (seriously) to record Game 6. I'd planned to drive straight back home, rewind the game and watch in something close to real time. Instead, as we walked back to the car, an unmistakable sound came down A1A: BEEEEPbeeepbeeepbeep BEEEP BEEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEEP!
Dammit, I thought. They won it.
I should've known better than to think I could block out an NBA title in South Florida, and looking back, that's why I get my hackles up any time someone shits on All Miami Fans. (This is a reflexive sport in America. Begin a Google search with the words "Heat fans are" and the suggestions include "fake," "the worst," "terrible," "losers," "delusional," "bandwagon," "pathetic," and "a joke.") The city may be an open sewer of humanity, all drug-money mansions and teen-aged plastic surgery and narcissism as a dogma, and it may include this shameless harpy, and this slappable douche nozzle, and these window-fogging twits, and after the Heat won this year a club owner comped them the one hundred thousand American dollars the team rang up for 103 bottles of Champagne, which, hospitality aside, is a moral abomination in a city that for all its overcompensating opulence routinely ranks among the nation's poorest. If you thought there was justice in the world because broke-dick Cleveland, Ohio, enjoyed the spoils of having a LeBron James as its ambassador to the world, please allow that, almost surely, more beat-down people leading equally tough lives in the shoddy social safety net and high crime and malignant unemployment that characterize the non-music-video lives that dominate South Florida also are enjoying the reflected glow of LeBron in his prime. A ton of them are immigrants, a ton of them are underwater on their once-hyperinflated mortgages, a ton of them probably don't ever feel so close to the blingtastic side of Miami as they do when the Heat play. You don't see those workaday sonsabitches on the teevee, but that's most folks most places, and certainly in a town where a quarter of the inhabitants live below the poverty line and everyone who can't afford a thousand-dollar bottle of Dom has to watch the rich and stupid set that supposed standard all the dang time. Then, the Heat win. And everyone with a car horn can sing that joyous single-note victory song on A1A.
Income inequality is neither new nor confined to America's glans. But it's on mean display in Miami, and the fact is, the narrow stereotype of Heat fans in the American Airlines Arena lower bowl — which, to be fair, probably does contain some of the worst human beings in sporting America on any given night — insults the true multitudes of that city. Rembert Browne picked up on this as he reported this serendipitous Grantland piece; left without a seat of his own (metaphor!) he circles the concourses until he winds up in the bowels of the arena where the rank-and-file building and team staff are hanging on every play. The Larry O'Brien trophy goes by, and one person, a mover, dares to predict, "There go the trophy, bruh, right there. You know we 'bout to get that," only to see the Heat's lead become more tenuous. Brown notes the key pronoun here — "we," instead of "they" — and concludes that these folks are some of the most unabashed fans in the building, the ones who possibly wouldn't be able to afford to enter the building had they not been paid to be there.
This Heat team was not as lovable as 2006's. Neither Wade nor Chris Bosh seemed to be all there. LeBron carries a glow of rote inevitability at this point. The flopping was orgiastic. Ray Allen and Shane Battier are consummate draftsmen, whereas in a different life, Jason Williams and Gary Payton might've been holding up stagecoaches together. Still, in the San Antonio series, this made-for-ESPN band of mercenaries showed a reserve of honest grit. Miami turned out to be a rougher, nastier place than it let on, as usual.
Photo credit of Heat fans watching decisive Game 6 of the 2006 Finals on televisions at American Airlines Arena: Getty