In Miami, where there is so much skin exposure, emotions are like beads of sweat. Feelings cannot be repressed or hidden.
So, two years after gloating over superhero LeBron James and the NBA title he and the Heat brought to South Florida, local basketball fans were gloating over James’ failure to bring the trophy to Cleveland.
The day after the Cavaliers lost Game 6 and the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors despite James’ Atlas-like effort, Miamians gleefully poured salt in the wounds of the athlete who gave us four years of glorious drama.
Hypocritical? Yes, but the very nature of sports fanaticism is characterized by irrationality. Tacky? Yes, but tacky is Miami’s calling card. If Miami’s attitude had a Twitter account, it would be @Tackyandsowhat.
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James was understandably forlorn after Tuesday’s 105-97 loss. He had 32 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists in another attempt to carry the Cavs but it wasn’t enough to cover their deficiencies. James was so dominant throughout the series that he was considered an MVP contender even as a member of the losing team. He scored or assisted on 57.7 points per game, the most in Finals history, even more than Michael Jordan’s 55.3 in 1993. The story was as much about James’ ability to single-handedly take over games as it was about Steph Curry’s spectacular shooting.
Two narratives entranced: James giving everything to give Cleveland its first NBA title and its first pro sports’ title since the Browns won in 1964. Or, Curry, on his elfin feet, with his magician’s sleight-of-hand release, leading Golden State to its first title since Rick Barry’s golden year of 1975.
Pick your plot. Both were riveting.
In the end, the better team won, as was the case when the San Antonio Spurs dissected the Heat last year. James couldn’t compensate for Cleveland’s weaker supporting cast and 38 percent accuracy, one of the worst shooting performances in Finals history. It was a minor miracle that Cleveland even got to the Finals given the potluck composition of the team with a rookie coach. Things got more complicated when Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving got hurt.
Those factors were no consolation for James, now 2-4 in NBA Finals, with the two wins in Miami and the four losses split between Miami and Cleveland. From under the brim of a hat pulled low over his eyes, James said that losing the championship causes an indescribable pain, whether it’s in Miami, Cleveland or on Mars.
Miami fans would have liked to see the Heat play the Warriors. Had James stayed here, a fifth straight Finals appearance for the Heat was practically a given. But he decided to go home and embark on his Cleveland reclamation project. For that decision, and the way he enacted it, many Miami fans have disowned him and were rooting against him with the same passion they once felt in rooting for him.
The man certainly does not inspire neutrality. Clevelanders who burned his jersey, cursed his name and wished he would never win a title love him today. They are as hypocritical and tacky as the Miami fans who would swoon if James came back to the Heat.
An air of triumph — or of comeuppance served — suffused Miami on Wednesday. The most clever gloat was a Game of Thrones spoof by radio hosts Joy Taylor and Jonathan Zaslow of 790 AM/104.3 FM The Ticket. Taylor clanged on a platter and called out, “Shame! Shame!” to imitate the humiliating walk of atonement Queen Regent Cersei Lannister had to make before she could return to the castle. King James was humbled, too.
And, to make the episode even more of a downer, Jon Snow, the honorable but soft Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, was stabbed by his own men and left to die by a “Traitor” sign. This symbolism was rich for Heat fans turned LeBron haters.
Because the Cavs lost, James must endure the comparison game all over again. He’s the only player to play in five straight NBA Finals since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1983-84, notes the Elias Sports Bureau. He joins esteemed company in Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Karl Malone and Wilt Chamberlain in possessing a losing record in the Finals.
But, but, but – there’s that bugaboo about James failing in the clutch. He missed 14 of his 17 field goals in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime with the score within five points in these Finals, and has shot a not-so-heroic 30 percent in Finals clutch time for his career, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Nor is he up there with Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who all had winning Finals records.
The big picture shows James winning only two titles in 12 years. The immediate picture showed James pulling a mediocre, hobbled team to the threshold of a championship. This was not 2011, when James shrunk against the Dallas Mavericks. This was James becoming the first player to lead both Finals teams in points, rebounds and assists.
He’s 30. The clock is ticking. The comparisons won’t end until he wins more championships. It’s fun and fine for Miamians feeling jilted by James to gloat about his loss in the NBA’s 2015 game of thrones. But give LeBron time. He has a way of making history.