Of all the irritations of the Heat’s bombastic, breathtaking, bygone Big 3 Era, one rivaled any other in annoyance: the endlessly embarrassing psychoanalysis. It never seemed to cease, the cacophony of definitive diagnoses of LeBron James’ head as well as the Heat fan’s heart, from a collection of carnival barkers, click-baiters and sofa spuds who knew little about South Florida.
So I apologize for what I’m about to do: analyze you.
And, by “you,” I mean the fraternal, but not especially friendly or forgiving, order of #TeamPetty — those who, since July 11, 2014, have rooted against James and the Cavaliers with ferocity at least equal to any pulling for the Heat’s subsequent success.
As I watched a jubilant James soak in the amazing accomplishment of a sixth consecutive Eastern Conference championship, a second in succession with Cleveland after four with Miami, I came to comprehend what’s driving this.
The fear of feeling diminished — whether your role in his breakthrough, your place in his history or even your memory of those four magical seasons.
That’s what this is really about.
It’s not really about anger at James for refusing to text Pat Riley to state his summer of 2014 intentions, so that the Heat president could properly pivot —though the affection for, and protection of, Riley has been earned, as this sports region’s only master team-builder during a misbegotten era of management misfits.
It’s not really about James seeming to forget Heat fans as he fled, beyond retweeting a Heat photo of him saluting them from the scorer’s table. He could have done more for sure, though, after some reporting, I deem this more oversight than intention; he did speak kindly of Heat supporters on an Uninterrupted video before his return on Christmas Day 2014.
It’s not really about the embarrassing ignorance of the national media during those four seasons, typecasting South Florida’s sports fans as bandwagoners entirely undeserving of someone of James’ stature. Though those media members were misinformed. Hypocrites, too, bashing the place they preferred to be — I saw so many fewer of them last season while covering James in Cleveland than in the previous four years here. The narratives have spun more positive since James left Sodom and Gomorrah for a city cutely calling itself Believeland, where, allegedly, America’s only working-class people exist, while everyone in these privileged parts sips Cristal on a speeding Stingray. Double standards keep running on double time. Remarkably, when Quicken Loans Arena empties early, that doesn’t make a sound.
But none of these slights are what #TeamPetty is really about. No, this is really about what those years meant to you, what you thought they meant to James, what you hope they still do. You’re worried that, if he beats either the Thunder or Warriors in the NBA Finals, to end Cleveland’s major professional sports championship drought at 52 years, he will be asked whether this means more to him. You know he will answer the only way that occasion will allow:
So be it.
For Cleveland, a title will matter more than anything. Let them have that, even if the city’s childish reaction to his 2010 departure — from the owner’s vile letter to the fans’ abusive greeting upon James’ Dec. 2 return — should be eternally condemned rather than richly rewarded. Your reward’s the richest anyway. You get to regularly see the sun.
And while you’ll surely hear that the whole country cares about the conclusion of Cleveland’s sport misery, you don’t even need to dignify that fable with disgust. The modern NBA is about individuals, not cities or even teams — their triumphs, their tragedies, their legacies. James’ pursuit of his first championship has always been a more compelling story than his pursuit of Cleveland’s first in forever. It just so happens that, for his first seven seasons, those ambitions were aligned.
Then, in 2010, after he broke that link, you know which story mattered, and it wasn’t Cleveland languishing in the lottery. The Heat’s Big 3 immediately went beyond a basketball or sports story to a cultural and sociological phenomenon, with enough “gates” to cover an equestrian course, more hate than any sporting entity has ever endured, and an arc biblical in nature, as James ascended from his 2011 mental meltdown. The entire escapade was unprecedented, and America couldn’t avert its eyes. As SportsMediaWatch.com posted Friday, the Heat’s Big 3 teams have nine of the top 10 rated non-NBA Finals games since 2002. None of the current Cavs’ ratings have come close. National website traffic and resources also reflect far more passion about James’ Miami story.
That is your story, too. Those are your experiences, and they won’t expire because you won’t have exclusivity over James’ championship ecstasy. The Heat organization you admire won’t be less instrumental in him finding his footing. He has made no secret about where took his template.
Will a championship mean more to him than the two in Miami, and especially the first — the one that got the naysayers off his neck, the one that validated him as all-time icon? More just because the Browns and Indians — and the Cavs without him — have been perennial failures? Because he was born 40 miles away, in Akron, a city that’s competitive with cousin Cleveland?
He will say so. They will say so.
You will know better.
No one ever forgets the first. So forget #TeamPetty. Feel free to be magnanimous. What happened in Miami will always be most magnificent.
Get off the couch and get over it.