What happened in the buildup to this Heat-Pacers Eastern Conference final is something you would find at the intersection of Funny and Sad.
Indiana coach Frank Vogel made a comment about playing Miami that was very benign and coach-like: “They’re the next team that’s in our way, and that’s how we’re approaching it.”
Except that Heat superstar LeBron James — in the fashion of Michael Jordan, who always led the league in taking umbrage and seeing imaginary slights to fuel himself — chose to interpret Vogel’s remarks as disrespect.
“We’re not just another team” responded James, as if Vogel has said exactly that. “I don’t understand what he’s saying. We’re a great team. We’re a very confident team.”
Immediately the exchange had formed the framework of this series. It was called a “War of the Words” in a Miami Herald headline and dissected ad nauseum on ESPN.
The blooming of one comment and one reaction into something controversial was halfway between funny and sad because this is where we’re at now in this Heat postseason run toward a second consecutive NBA championship.
We are so desperate for some dramatic tension, for a challenge to the dominant Heat, that we will see drama where it doesn’t exist if necessary. Hey, it beats boredom!
Admit it. Ease and tranquility are overrated. Difficulty and messy are more fun.
The first season of Miami’s Big 3 era was so exhilarating, so memorable, partly because it was so damned fascinating playing the role of national villain. To hear that booing and feel that hatred in arenas all over the country, especially toward LeBron, cast the Heat as the most interesting, talked-about team in America.
And it recast this franchise, literally overnight (the night LeBron made “The Decision”).
“Miami was never considered a big-market team until we put these guys on the team,” as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra noted Monday. “If you build it, they will come. …”
Year 2 of the Big 3 had its own innate chaos thanks to the first season falling short of a championship. The outward venom directed at the Heat subsided noticeably, but this remained a team under intense pressure to live up to its advertising and its own expectations — and that living up was in serious doubt until the moment it wasn’t.
Last year’s postseason was a genuine thrill ride, with Miami trailing these same Pacers 2-1 with Game 4 in Indiana in the second round. Then facing two elimination games in the Eastern finals vs. Boston. Then losing the NBA Finals opener at Oklahoma City.
“Last year was about survival,” Spoelstra said of the 2012 postseason.
One season later in the playoffs, Year 3 of the Big 3 is about dominance, about a reigning champion flexing its muscle.
A year ago today, Miami had not yet won enough to deserve James calling his a “great team.” Now that he believes it, that is why he took it as disrespect that Vogel would suggest (at least to him) that Miami was just another opponent in the way of the Pacers’ own title run.
(Perhaps LeBron took it as unearned confidence in part because the Pacers haven’t won anything since reigning in the old ABA in the short-shorts year 1973.)