When newly signed Heat forward LeBron James first played in the nation’s capital in 2010, the place hated him, strangely enough, for two competing reasons.
Most importantly, James was the guy who, before joining the Heat, starred for Cleveland, which put Washington out of the playoffs three postseasons in a row. But in 2010, the Wizards also loathed James for leaving the Cavaliers, which is odd because, in reality, it was a fact that probably should have been celebrated in Washington.
But perception was reality for James that first season with the Heat. Every arena was a bandbox of boos. Washington simply got in line with all the other LeBron haters.
Compare 2010-11 and Tuesday night at Verizon Center and a perfect picture is painted of just how dramatically the reception of James has changed in some cities around the NBA. James received a standing ovation and raucous applause after back-to-back dunks in the second quarter of the Heat’s 100-82 loss.
“It’s a lovefest right now,” Wade said before the game when asked about ESPN The Magazine’s NBA preview, which apparently is dedicated to James.
Lovefest Washington was the first loss of the preseason for the Heat (3-1) — not that losing in the preseason really means much. But an otherwise unforgettable night was made vividly memorable by James’ dunks. The first was a reverse dunk with a double pump that created an audible buzz in the building. The reaction to James’ second dunk, a one-handed alley-oop from Chris Bosh, made Verizon Center feel like the Heat’s home arena.
“It has come a long ways,” said Battier, who played for the Grizzlies in 2010-11 when Memphis, of all places, booed James just as unmercifully as everywhere else. “These guys went through it in 2010 when they were just vilified, and no one likes to get booed. I think the guys in this locker room enjoy being showmen and putting on a good show for the fans, and so it’s nice that this team is appreciated for good basketball.”
Brooklyn is a borough of New York that appreciates good basketball, but chances are the Heat won’t be so universally celebrated at Barclays Center on Thursday when the Heat squares off against the Nets’ retooled roster of aging stars. Of course, it is a preseason game, so the atmosphere will be subdued compared to the Nets’ regular-season home opener against Miami on Nov.1.
James had 10 points, four rebounds and four assists in Tuesday’s loss.
Wade was 5 of 10 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line for 14 points in 24 minutes. His alley-oop dunk from James in the second quarter was a positive sign as he gradually works himself into basketball shape after an offseason built around taking pressure off of his knees.
Bosh had 13 points, and Battier, who was 4 of 4 from three-point range, had 14 points off the bench.
Bradley Beal, the former Florida Gators star, led the Wizards with 29 points. John Wall had 13 points, eight assists and five steals.
Roger Mason Jr., in his first game back since a strained quadriceps sidelined him for two games, missed a shot in the fourth quarter that, had it gone down, would have brought the Heat within seven points of the Wizards’ lead. After that, the Wizards pulled ahead.
One of the constant themes of the Heat’s traveling circus for road games this season will be road reporters asking “perspective questions” about the Heat’s “place in history.” Detroit, Kansas City and Washington were a potpourri of perspective questions and Brooklyn is sure to be a zoo. Of course, media buzz is nothing new for the Heat, which has operated under a microscope since 2010. The players have entertained most questions with fresh ideas and thoughtfulness.
“We know we’re a special team and hopefully one day when we’re all looking back we can look back at the great things that we were able to accomplish, and be a part of history,” Wade said on Tuesday. “But we’re just trying to continue building that right now.”
For Wade, history blurs over every blemish, especially the perception that luck played a large role in the Heat’s 2013 title.
“All people know is that [Michael Jordan] won six,” Wade said. “They don’t remember exactly how he got there. They don’t remember the tough games that he had and having to come back and being down to Utah and all these things when it was looking questionable, so it’s going to be those moments.”
Wade called Washington a young team that is still learning “how to play and how to win together,” but acknowledged the Wizards “have a lot of talent.” If Washington can remain healthy this season, it has the potential to earn its first playoff berth since 2008. The Wizards are arguably the second best team in the Southeast Division.
“I thought coming into last season they were going to be a much more improved team, then John Wall got hurt and that kind of stunted their growth a little bit at the time,” Wade said. “You saw when he came back they started to become a better team and putting it together, so this is a team that has playoff potential and for us a potential first-round team.”