Don’t delude yourselves, Indiana Pacers. America hasn’t fallen in love with you. Roy Hibbert might be good, but Kris Humphries still has a lot more name recognition. Those cheers you’re hearing from across the land aren’t so much for you as they are against the Miami Heat.
No surprise, of course. Almost two years after LeBron made “The Decision”, it still stands alone as the most obnoxious, out-of-touch, self-aggrandizing event by an athlete ever. Well, except for the following night, when James and his new teammates, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, starred in that grotesque lights-and-special effects stage production featuring the Big Three doing Jay Leno-style handshakes with the audience and LeBron declaring his intention to win at least a half dozen rings. Too bad it all came off so horribly, because ‘The Decision’ obscured LeBron’s actual decision, which at worst should’ve been a feel-good story about a superstar more concerned with winning than money and at best could’ve delivered a symbolic hero to the millions of Americans suffering because of decisions made by Wall Street.
As best you can, erase the specifics of “The Decision” from your mind. I know, I know — it’s tougher than getting the dog poop out of your favorite sneakers, but do your best. All set? Now, what if I told you there’s an NBA team whose stars represent the same basic ideals as the 99-percenters who’ve been occupying American cities over the past year? Sounds good? Then I’m pleased to present the Miami Heat.
I acknowledge the irony of comparing wildly wealthy NBA players with the average American, but in the NBA universe the players are the proletariat and the owners are the bourgeoisie. Players might be millionaires, but owners are billionaires. In other words, the players are the NBA’s working class. They might have enough influence to sell sneakers and energy drinks to the general public, but they don’t generally have much power when it comes to building an NBA roster.
Or at least they didn’t until July 8, 2010. That’s the day a high school-educated kid from Akron announced that he and two other league employees named Wade and Bosh had decided to circumvent the standard process of having owners, GMs and agents dictate the free-agency process by choosing to play together where they wanted under their own terms. They even took less money to do it. What’s not to love?
Make no mistake, LeBron isn’t without guilt — he was a grown man who should’ve known better than to participate in nonsense so profound as “The Decision” — but I blame his out-of-his-depth manager Maverick Carter and ESPN’s ratings-grabbing producers more for the cockamamie made-for-TV event that re-cast a formerly likable, charismatic guy into the lead villain of an elitist gang of sun-soaked prima donnas. And while I’m at it, shame on LeBron for getting so swept up in the process that he failed to tell his homestate fans in advance that he wouldn’t be returning to the Cavs. Maintain the suspense of his pseudo-gameshow notwithstanding, LeBron had no excuse for letting Clevelanders twist like that. The least he should’ve done — for his own sake, as well as theirs — was show them as much empathy as possible as he made off for beachier pastures.
Which brings me to the most loathsome aspect of “The Decision” … which, of course, was LeBron saying, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” He’s still gotta be waking up in a cold sweat of regret over that one. Arrogance, braggadocio and a misanthropic kiss-off to the place he’d spent the first quarter century of his life — all in one short sentence. Imagine how different our collective perception of LeBron if he’d instead said, “I’m going to occupy South Beach.”
Likewise, conservatives should get behind the Big Three. LeBron, Wade and Bosh were merely taking advantage of their individual freedoms provided by our Constitution, fighting to determine their own path instead of waiting for someone to hand it to them from on high. Matter of fact, the Heat are an experiment in the trickledown effect: the success of three top-tier players will theoretically trickle down to the nine lucky schlubs on the court with them.
But of course, it hasn’t worked out that way. Bosh is out, Wade is fuming, and LeBron is getting the lion’s share of the blame. The Heat appear to be on their way to a second straight playoff failure, at least as measured by their “win-or-bust” yardstick. And America couldn’t be happier about it.