To fully appreciate the power and influence of the Miami Heat, it’s going to take wading outside the fishbowl of South Florida to truly grasp the idea.
The Heat is a global phenomenon. Its reach spans the world and now commands the attention of not only basketball fans everywhere but also, in a more culturally significant way, has crept into the consciousness of people who probably aren’t really fans of basketball at all.
Micky Arison’s team isn’t the first to accomplish this feat, of course. There is precedence, but the way the Heat went about harnessing its dynastic appeal and projecting it outward was, without question, a first for the NBA.
Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls did it with shoes. The Los Angeles Lakers got a hand from Hollywood. The Boston Celtics simply piled on the back of one extraordinary individual, Bill Russell. The Knicks play in New York. The Heat circumvented the Earth with YouTube and Twitter.
At last count, the Heat’s Harlem Shake video, uploaded to the social-media depository Feb. 28, was approaching 46 million views. Within two days of its link first appearing on the Heat’s Twitter account (@MiamiHEAT), the video was retweeted 63,927 times. According to Research Magazine, 51 percent of the video’s social-media sharing came from outside the United States.
What does that mean, exactly? It means the Heat is the first American sports dynasty of the Social Media Age, and it wasn’t accomplished by Ray Allen hitting his unforgettable three-pointer, the team running off 27 consecutive victories or LeBron James winning back-to-back everything. It was done with an oversized bear head hiding Dwyane Wade’s face, Mario Chalmers as Super Mario, Shane Battier’s “horsestronaut” costume and James donning his matching fuzzy and red faux ermine fur crown and cape, and dancing shirtless.
Yes, it can be argued that one doesn’t happen without the other, but what’s the lasting image of this team going to be worldwide? Did the Harlem Shake make the defending champions, or did the defending champions make the Harlem Shake?
“The horse head,” Battier said. “It’s undefeated.”
“I had one secret for Game 7,” Battier said. “I don’t think we could have done it without the ‘horsestronaut.’ ”
But, no, for real: Would there be another championship to celebrate in Miami if not for the one all-important fabric of a team that cannot be quantified by numbers? The team chemistry put to song and dance in the Harlem Shake video that electrified the Internet and expanded virally the Heat’s sphere of influence is the same mystic thing that kept the team together in its darkest hour — down five points in Game6 of the NBA Finals with 28.2 seconds to play.
“I like who we are as a team, on the floor and off the floor,” James said in March. “It shows who we really are, that video. As close as we are in that video, that’s as close as we are on the floor.
“With everything that goes on with our team from the outside, we have to figure out ways to keep ourselves sane and have fun.”
Fun is Allen dancing around in moon boots with a Phantom of the Opera mask on his face and an equally theatrical red cape around his shoulders. Team chemistry is Allen anticipating a pass from Chris Bosh and backpedaling into position for the biggest three-pointer of his life. And Allen has made a lot of three-pointers.
“That was my greatest three of all time, just the moment, the situation, what it meant, just everything that went into that possession,” Allen said. “We’ll talk about this forever, and I’m glad that I could be part of this.”
Glad doesn’t even begin to describe it. How important is fun? How significant is team chemistry?
Upon winning the second championship of his career, Allen might be the most qualified person to understand its power. Put it this way: Basketball fans were unlikely to see Allen and Rajon Rondo teaming up for a Celtics Harlem Shake video even if Allen had stayed in Boston.
“This is what I came down here for, and I couldn’t be happier,” Allen said.
It’s hard to put a price on happiness, but Allen can. He walked away from $3 million in search of team harmony and found it the instant he peeked his head into the Heat’s locker room.
“The minute I got here, this team made me feel welcome,” Allen said. “I didn’t win last year with this team, but they made me feel a part of it.”
And Allen wasn’t the only player new to the team this season who played an important role in its success on the court and its perfectly executed version of the Harlem Shake in the locker room. Chris Andersen, the Birdman, was accepted into the flock just as gracefully and his immediate connection with the team’s high-energy identity (to borrow a buzzword from coach Erik Spoelstra) propelled the Heat to soaring regular-season heights not seen in 40 years.
Fitting right in
Andersen joined the team Jan. 20 with the first of two 10-day contracts and signed for the remainder of the season Feb. 8, or three games into the 27-game winning streak. During the regular season, the Heat went 39-3 in games that featured Andersen, marking the highest winning percentage (.929) by any player in NBA history appearing in at least 40 games. The Heat provided Andersen with a chance to get back in the NBA, but, in the end, his impact and value to the team far outweighed his contract, which was worth the veteran’s minimum.
“I think his impact is something we … we stole him,” James said April 6 after a win against the 76ers, during which Andersen had 15 rebounds. “We stole Bird. His activity, his high energy, it’s in those ranks of Joakim Noah, Anderson Varejao, those type of guys that go all the way until their tank is empty and then they fill it back up and then they go all the way out until the tank is empty again.
“And there’s not many guys like that in our league.”
Andersen improved throughout the regular season and peaked in the playoffs. He made his first 16 attempts in the Eastern Conference finals and finished the postseason shooting 80.7 percent from the field. Of course, his biggest contribution this season might have come in the first 16 seconds of the Harlem Shake video. He started the video in character, flapping his colorfully tattooed Birdman wings through the locker room to the beat of the music.
“Bird starting it all off — he’s an unbelievable character,” James said. “He needs to be a character in a cartoon.”
There are dozens of hues interlaced in Andersen’s body art, but there are only two pronounced yet overlapping tones that paint the masterpiece of team chemistry needed for the Heat to win consecutive NBA championships and take its place as the first of its kind in this overly critical era of media and social media. The world knows James and the Harlem Shake and how that playful and carefree dynamic has shaped the team.
The other core chemical element emanates from the franchise’s bedrock, Udonis Haslem, and doesn’t get as much attention. The co-captain has sacrificed more financially than anyone on the team and, in the NBA Finals, he sacrificed his role for another championship.
It’s impossible to complain about anything with that kind of presence and perspective in the locker room.
“This was the ultimate team,” said Haslem, who fittingly wore a fireman’s hat in the Harlem Shake video. “Each round, each game, each series, somebody else stepped up to help this team reach its ultimate goal, and somebody had to sacrifice in order for that to happen.”
And do the Harlem Shake.