Friday, July 9, 2010

Wishful Thinking

Perhaps it's the unavoidable need to entertain the pessimistic voice in my head. Perhaps it's the Friday morning hangover following the single-most celebrated free agency acquisition in the history of the NBA. Perhaps it was the 5 pints of beer I consumed while feverishly watching 'The Decision' on ESPN. Whatever the reason, I find myself hurling back to earth following the high of LeBron James deciding to play for the Miami Heat.

I am a Heat fan. I am a fan of all teams from South Florida. Although I reside in Tampa (Go Rays), my sports heart will always be tied to the 3-0-5 and the franchises that call Miami home.

The euphoria with which the news of LeBron James' decision was received in South Florida is understandable. The idea of a super-trio of basketball stars sharing the court at the American Airlines Arena, three friends, all Olympic gold medalists, paving the road toward more championship hardware. It is Miami's own dream team. The question, however, is simple. Can Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh avoid the slippery slope that can quickly devolve this dream scenario into a nightmare for Pat Riley?

This has nothing to do with ego. What these three professional athletes have done is unprecedented. They have left money on the table – millions of dollars in salary – for the opportunity to win championships. Not just one title. Multiple titles. And that is where the intricate planning of Pat Riley, a plan he set in motion over two years ago, can all come unraveled.

From here on forward, the expectations are simply ridiculous. Anything short of an NBA title will be viewed as a failure. Anything short of multiple titles will be viewed as a failure. There's no argument these three players, all of whom are in their prime, are capable of delivering two or maybe three NBA championships to South Florida. Still, what happens if they don't?

The situation staring the Miami Three in the face is akin to the joke by comedian Eddie Izzard: Cake or death? There is no middle ground. There is no acceptable level of accomplishment that does not culminate with obtaining a ring. LeBron has reached the NBA Finals on his own. Chris Bosh has experienced early playoff exits in Toronto. Yes, Wade has a ring, but it's a title marred in some circles by the questionable officiating of the 2006 finals and the 'Stern hates Cuban' conspiracy theorists.

In a culture where winning is everything, Pat Riley and his Heat are in a no-win situation. If they deliver one title, it will be celebrated but diminished by the expectation of the ones still to come. If they don't win titles at all, then this will all be regarded as a colossal failure and the media backlash will be more insufferable than it already is. Their only option is to win a slew of titles over the next five years. Only then will everyone be able to look back on this Heat team with positive praise.

Compounding the problem is the fact Miami invented the concept of 'fair-weather' fans. With all due respect to the handful of loyalists that are at every game, Miami is a city driven by trends and what's hot. Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson may very well go on to win the NL Cy Young award this year, but no one will hear about it because for the next eight months there will be no topic hotter than the Heat. Even the Dolphins will take a backseat to the NBA this fall, with only an improbable Super Bowl run being the one thing that would avert our attention from the Heat's Triple Threat.

Miami fans are analogous to the guy at the bar buying drinks for the hot girl only to leave her standing all alone so as to pursue the other hot girl that just walked in. Can you say 1996 Florida Panthers? We're fickle. We're impatient. We want to be seen courtside, but we attend games only when it's convenient to us, and only if the team is winning. Yet this is what we wanted. This is what we hoped for. We wanted to be the landing spot for the most coveted free agents in the league. We wanted to be the center of the NBA universe. Now that we're there, let's just hope the old adage isn't true. Be careful what you wish for.

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