David J. Neal

David J. Neal: Miami, Indianapolis have sports similarities beyond court

The Heat gets who in the NBA Eastern Conference finals? Indiana? What, no (censored) Knicks?

The NBA playoffs must shatter conspiracy theorists’ core beliefs. Sort of like the first time someone tried to break the news about Santa Claus. Or if newly discovered video shot from the grassy knoll angle showed nothing new.

The Heat, Indiana, San Antonio, Memphis: a quartet of conference finalists that mocks the notion that NBA playoff results come not by performance, but by decree from on high in NBA headquarters. Didn’t the black helicopters crowd just know somehow the Knicks would take Indiana to Game 7?

Yeah, the Knicks sank as they usually do in the second round instead of the first. Plucky, gunning Golden State fell to small market consistent San Antonio, the NBA’s Pete Sampras. And, as proven by LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Pete Maravich, Bernard King and, yes, Michael Jordan, a single superstar will have major problems without other star help against a defensively sound team. So, goodbye Kevin Durant, hello Wish That Franchise Stayed in Vancouver (Grizzlies).

Could Don David Stern be slipping late in his reign? Or, maybe the conspiracy theorists have something and Stern’s at heart … a basketball fan.

Heat-Knicks brings frosting. Heat-Indiana brings basketball intrigue.

Contrasts make good fights. The Pacers’ Roy Hibbert’s a true center and 6-9 David West is a problem. The Heat plays small ball. The Pacers have go-to guys but not stars. The Heat has stars. If I need to name them, you’re in the wrong column. The Pacers adopted the motto “Blue Collar, Gold Swagger.” The Heat almost hopes you’re foolish enough to miss the blue collar beneath its swagger.

The Pacer people hate is Tyler Hansbrough, a Tar Heel. The Heat guy opponents want to throttle is Shane Battier, a Duke man. The Pacers are owned by Herb Simon, known for shopping malls, the symbol of daily consumption and retail employment. The Heat is owned by Mickey Arison, known for cruise lines, a symbol of vacations.

Also, on a personal level, it means two weeks of amusing commentary on my Facebook timeline between friends from each half of my life. Sunday was 24 years, exactly, since I crash landed in South Florida (literally — I rear-ended a truck on a Florida Turnpike exit) from Indiana. Eleven months later, I moved to South Beach. I’ve lived with a view of Biscayne Bay ever since.

I was born three miles from where the Pacers first played and three miles from where they play now. I see where the Heat plays looking out any west-facing window or door in my home.

The Pacers share some circumstances with the Dolphins.

The Pacers once owned Indianapolis in the same kind of pro sports walkover that gave the Dolphins South Florida. Those split on college and high school allegiances or racial differences could come together to cheer for the Pacers, the American Basketball Association’s model franchise on and off the court.

They regained that status as Reggie Miller era. Yet the gloaming of Miller’s career combined with the Colts’ consistency changed things in basketball country. The Pacers turned as bland as the Dolphins offense while the Colts injected sexy Just as black-and-red merchandise obscures the rare aqua in South Florida schoolyards these days, Christmas cards out of Indianapolis began featuring families swathed in Colts jerseys.

The Heat won an NBA title in 2006, months before the Colts won a Super Bowl. The Pacers’ last championship was an ABA title in 1973, months before the Dolphins’ most recent Super Bowl win. Like the Dolphins, the Pacers know it’s time to get it together. They no longer set the local standard. That standard has been raised, and the standard-setters aren’t going anywhere for now. Andrew Luck took the baton from Peyton Manning just as LeBron James took the baton from Dwyane Wade.

But Wade’s still here. Chris Bosh is here. The best second unit since The Godfather Part II is here.

Which is why the NBA Finals will be here. In six games.

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