You feel a little sick, right? You carry an anchor in your stomach. The way you care is irrational, but intellectualizing it doesn’t make it hurt any less. Your sleep becomes either wired or restless, and what you take with you to work in the morning, unable to shake the heaviness of this feeling, is equal parts sadness and emotional drain.
“But this is just entertainment,’’ the logical side of you attempts to reason.
But the heart wallows and wails for logic to just shut the hell up.
Are we having fun yet, Miami Heat fans?
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Because, without danger and fear, roller-coasters aren’t fun, skydiving isn’t exhilarating and this Heat team wouldn’t be the riveting thrill ride that it is. Fandom has to hurt for the joy to be most fulfilling — you have to care, you have to risk suffering — and the Heat has now pushed all of South Florida right to the brink. The stakes tonight? So huge. The margin for error? So microscopic. Grab the bungee and the Pepto and prepare to leap off the end of the cliff at 8:30 tonight.
A loss against the rugged Celtics ends the Heat season, and America will laugh at Miami with a braying force that echoes for months — maybe years, given how historically and loudly this team was put together and how publicly it would be falling apart. A win? All that buys you is a few hours of blessed relief, just a few hours, until we would do it all over again, Game 7, Saturday night.
You get handed the blindfold and cigarette tonight when you turn on that television. And you survive until Saturday only if those veteran killers from Boston miss with their first shot. Fandom doesn’t get a lot more terrifying than this.
There is so much mistrust around this Heat team. Poison. Hostility. It can be soothed if not quite healed with a victory tonight — Miami is favored by one point, which doesn’t mean much given that it lost the last game when favored by eight — but the fan base still suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from losing in The Finals last year and hearing a mocking America rejoice all offseason. There have been very few sports teams, ever, rooted against the way this one is nationally, which makes the civic pride rallying around it locally as strong as anything ever felt for a sports team in our fickle, bandwagon town.
But the Heat has betrayed you recently, underachieving against a limping, old Celtics team against which Miami was heavily favored. And now there is doubt and anger and, well, you aren’t even sure if anyone on this team will make a bleeping free throw for you. It was never supposed to come to this. The challenge and fear was supposed to be in the next round, but it has arrived early, and it is unwelcome. Miami, the favorite all season, has had a three-game losing streak at just about the worst possible time. And only a two-game winning streak fixes that now.
You have to wonder how this team will react to the size of this moment. Can you shoot jump shots accurately with your hands trembling? Miami has played under a great deal of scrutiny and pressure for two seasons, more than any team in sports, more than just about any ever, and Coach Erik Spoelstra has always said after the failures that his team will learn and strengthen from falling down. Is that just a coaching platitude or an essential bonding truth? The answer to that question may decide whether Spoelstra gets to keep working here or not.
The Heat crumbled the only other time it has been under this kind of weight — in Game 6 of The Finals last year. Totally crumbled. And that was in the friendlier confines of home, not in a rabid Boston. It would be the most human thing in the world for Miami to be super tight tonight. Only two times in two years has Miami played a win-or-your-season-is-over-and-America-will-laugh-at-you game. And the last one was crushing, which is why so much distrust surrounds this team now. The home arena was so quiet during the last loss late that you could feel the surrounding fear in your core.
Miami tries to fend off the Celtics and a laughing America beginning at 8:30 tonight.
That anchor in your stomach? That emotional drain? That fear that consumes you?
If that’s what you feel here, all these miles away from the center of the hostility, just watching on television, imagine what it feels like to be LeBron James.