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.