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      Taking the Heat

      June 22, 2012
      From the column 'The Mercy Rule'

      For one of the stronger words in the English language, “hate” doesn't get used very well. It can still describe what it is meant to describe, but it can also—and more often does—describe offhand distaste directed at a distant powerful person. The Reverend Fred Phelps, toting a God Hates Fags placard outside a military funeral and resembling a sack of defective vinegar stuffed into in an old Apex One Kansas Jayhawks windbreaker, is inarguably a hater. But so, somehow, is someone who points out on Twitter that Justin Bieber looks like the young Ally Sheedy. The former is a bile-pickled hemorrhoid who legitimately thinks that every bad thing that happens on earth can be traced back, in terms of causality, to Will and Grace. The latter is someone carping or snarking or otherwise goofing on an unassailably distant figure—and, in the example above, stating a fact, give or take Sheedy's prominent chin.

      Losing the meaning of “hate” is a failing of language, mostly, and a failure sloppy and stupid enough to impact other things. So it's complicated, at least with regards to the Miami Heat, figuring out which kind of hater to be. Complicated all the way through, from their ghoulish fashion-victim fan base—cokey nightmare club promoters and aspiring Pitbulls and creepo bronzed Viagrified sexagenarians and Jeremy Piven Awful White Guy Hat-enthusiasts, the lot of them—to their stars: tiny-eyed superhuman LeBron James, grown-up cartoon dinosaur Chris “Littlefoot” Bosh, and Kanye-esque Mean Girl-in-Chief Dwyane Wade. The Heat are the NBA Champions, becoming so on Thursday night by playing crushingly confident, precise, and forceful basketball. When they play their best, they're astounding in a way even most NBA champions aren't—they dominate even excellent opponents through sheer virtuosic force.

      Miami is too big and too fast and too good. It's unsettling, if only because this is the sort of thing fans are more used to seeing in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament—when Kentucky or North Carolina or some other layover destination for rising NBA rookies dunks to death a team of stringbeany HBCU dudes or dismembers the bushy-headed Taylors and Seans of some Midwestern directional school. It is not supposed to happen in the NBA Finals, against the NBA's other best team.

      The Heat are, despite all that or because of it, neither widely liked nor broadly likable. Because they are colossal and colossally self-important—said self regard does much to make the talent look ridiculous, even with that trophy in the case—the Heat have, in the Bieber-Sheedy/internet sense of the word, haters. But, for our own sake, we owe it to ourselves not to hate-hate them. Hate on them all you like—that's not really hate, it's just pointing out LeBron and Dem act like entitled creeps much of the time with puffed-up bitchy-bully behavior when they're winning and prickly prissiness when they lose.

      And there's no reason to forget all that. That the Heat are the best team in the NBA and could well remain so for a long time doesn't in any way mitigate the fact that, even by the usual standards for the NBA's sour and over-determined dynasty aspirants, these guys seem kind of dickish. There's no obligation to enjoy this or any greatness, of course—we can cheer for whatever team we choose, for whatever reasons. But let's not deny the undeniable with regard to the Heat, or deny ourselves the opportunity to fully experience—if not necessarily enjoy—what may yet be a very memorable team.

      Which, honestly, is easier said than done, with these Heat and in general, with juggernauts. If the Oklahoma City Thunder's origins represent a political challenge—beloved franchise of long standing kidnapped from a cosmopolitan city by a pair of ham-faced Oklahoma petro-creeps, who actually have done a really good job turning the team into an endearing and very good team, if you're just joining us—the Heat offer an aesthetic problem so profound as almost to be an ethical one. Which is a long way of saying that the Heat may well be too good to enjoy. Their dominance works great for the victory-humpers, slipstreaming wannabes and other-categorizable turds and multi-platinum R&B stars, all of which is eminently hate-able. The cornball bullies-by-proxy who demand success as a right and seethe when they don't get it and when they do, who say “we” when they talk about their dynasty of choice, and who are fans mostly of power—they all deserve all the scorn you can muster. But let's leave the Heat, themselves, out of that if we can.

      The Heat’s struggles have been as outsized and alien as their abilities; they didn't ever really seem human until they were sufficiently melted by their post-championship joy, at which point it became clear just what a relief it was to slip the expectations of the clown-horde of the last paragraph. The Heat are not terribly dynamic or surprising or fun, and the stars act, often, like giant, awful teenagers. But they could yet be one of the great teams NBA fans ever get to see, and LeBron James can already do things no player has ever done. Learning to like the inevitable is too much to ask. But learning to appreciate the Heat's inexorability—to let awe at least have its place alongside the universal sports fan wish for the unlikelier struggler to be successful—seems worth doing. We may or may not owe the Heat that. But, for our own sake, we should probably start getting used to it. Hating it would be a waste.

      Previously - Welcome to the NBA Finals

      @david_j_roth

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      Topics: NBA, the heat, Finals, Lebron James

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