Despite the summertime hostility directed toward LeBron James, and in contradistinction to insistence otherwise, the Miami Heat have not been particularly villainous this season. Miami is disliked, probably more than any other team, but the gap between it and other elite teams is more crack than chasm. Consider Boston, which must regularly confront geographic enmity, Paul Pierce intolerance, and the burgeoning Fuck a KG movement. The Celtic haters are legion, and Boston might actually win something, so the hate means more.

To the extent that any Heat is disliked, LeBron either bears or inspires the most vitriol, however it does not feel all that cool or warranted to hate him anymore, partially because he has maintained a fairly low profile this year. James hasn't stoked the flames of fan antipathy in traditional ways. He has not feuded with beloved figures, he has not injured anyone on purpose, he has not acted like the oblivious diva that we like to say he can be during his lowest moments. (Chris Bosh is another story: fair or not, it's fun to marginalize him.) He said a few things about the union and contraction that appeared to piss off journalists more than anyone else. Were Miami a more legitimate threat to win a title this season, that looming possibility might inspire stronger feelings, but until Miami finds a Kendrick Perkins (or Boston gets hurt), the Heat will not end the year with a coronation that echoes what we saw at their introduction.

All the same, some people do cling to the narrative of a dastardly Miami, perhaps none more so than...the Heat, themselves. It's weird and somewhat dissonant. True, there have been few feel-good marketing campaigns this year featuring LeBron, Dwyane Wade, or Chris Bosh. But frankly, there has been little to say about any of them beyond the confines of traditional basketball conversations. Wade's T-Mobile ads are the most memorable contribution the Big Three have made to NBA culture so far this season, and while they satirize the tabloid news cycle and the fury that attended Heat news this summer, the ads feel played out, not poignant. For so much screaming about such a celebrated union, the anticipation appears to have exhausted most of the available oxygen.

Like most things, it's LeBron's fault. Or it might as well be. James's "What Should I Do" ad seemed to cauterize the wounds endured this summer, rather than prolonging the pain or launching a series of reprisals. It was a coda, not an introduction. Some of that effect may owe to how easily, and quickly, the ad was lampooned; critical response from media and fans robbed LeBron's defiant moment of its gravitas. Moving so swiftly to answer James, to cast his ad as either a brilliant ethering or a clueless misstep along the same ill-found path, crowded out his message and seemed to indicate general Heat fatigue. Judging the ad, regardless of direction, meant it could be processed and disposed of swiftly. People were tired, and hating requires far more energy. So Heat haters, far from vituperative and animated, quickly settled into a muted kind of loathing, and the Heat have gone about business--at times struggling but largely playing well--in the glare of celebrity, but without the elevated temperature of hatred.

Don't tell Miami, though. The Heat seem to think there's a war going on outside. Game after game, Miami is introduced to a C-Murder soundtrack:

Conspicuously missing, no matter how understandable the reasons, is the original chorus:
Fuck them other n***as cause I'm down for my n***as (What)
Fuck them other n***as cause I'm down for my n***as (What)
Fuck them other n***as, I ride for my n***as (What)
I die for my n***as/Fuck them other n***as (What)
Angry, profane, spiteful, violent, retributive, cloistered. "Down 4 My N***az" is the soundtrack to the season the Heat expected to have. Only, they aren't having it, as noted. The basketball intelligentsia made its peace with the Heat long ago. Some fans may hate the team, but enough either do not, or just do not care, to the point that James and Wade still started in the All-Star Game. Heat games on national television are broadcast with something resembling calm, the announcers seemingly happy to operate in the quiet epilogue of a story that may ultimately have been about nothing. (Or about everything--power, race, money, labor--but only in years to come.) Still, Miami soldiers on.

Night in and night out, the Heat carry this mantle of hostility out onto their home floor. For each of the three All-Stars, it conjures something different. James has been his usual, brilliant self this season. Without mind-boggling numbers which the most optimistic James fan, or the most excited champion of spite (like me!), may have expected, he has made the Heat his own. Not only does he control the ball when it matters, but Wade has played a role as LeBron's second-in-command. James's steady demeanor, toned down from the exuberance he displayed in Cleveland, bespeaks a man toiling under the weight of expectation, some of it self-imposed. But not merely chastened or quiet, LeBron also has played with an air of dignity that contradicts The Decision and probably would not seem as strong were the Cavaliers not historically terrible. As though Miami's ascension and his game's devastating impact were inadequate, the sorry plight of a Cleveland team sinking swiftly has created a new and dazzling manner by which we can calibrate LeBron's preeminence. For his part, James has spoken kindly of Cleveland and otherwise focused on the task at hand, clawing back some of the respect he surrendered in July. The C-Murder track just isn't right for James under this light; he has been serious and spoken through example, but not insolent.

For Wade, meanwhile, the lasting impression is far more somber. Generally effective but intermittently out of sorts, Dwyane has occupied the role many forecasted for James. He has been supplanted as Miami's leading player. For years, his explosive style carried with it a noble air of martyrdom. He threw himself, often quite literally, into everything, from passing lanes to collapsing big men, and his regular ability to either win or go down furiously was heroic. Dwyane Wade was a wonderful loser when he had to be, and he made long odds a part of his appeal. He has never been a great winner, though, as his referee-aided championship surely reminds even some of his fans. Now, with his athletic exploits less mythic and his place on a winning team somewhat diminished, striding out as the Heat do each home game feels insincere. The bravado and assurance of the track no longer mesh with a player who seems like a lesser version of what he once was. Perception has hurt Wade more than any Heat, and his relative reticence has only reinforced the secondary lane in which he travels. He's like Magic--the bad rapper, not the bad television personality--on this track.

For no one, though, is the illusion of a season spent fighting more disconcerting than Bosh. It doesn't even bear explanation, really. After a summer during which he was happy to subordinate his will and persona to that of the teammates he hoped to gain, the specter of this lanky studio gangster with the disorienting facial hair (he's black, it's Asian) coming at an opponent fueled by C-Murder's bile is laughable. Sorry to be so literal, but C-Murder is in prison. Chris Bosh usually seems like he only eats when LeBron allows it, and as though he would punch with the underside of his fist. Though, this does make Bosh the perfect Heat for today's analysis. The Heat are not who they thought they would have to be, and Bosh lives it.

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At 2/22/2011 12:48 PM, Blogger Love the Lion said...

The story of this Heat is yet to be written. Will they charade their way out to that silly track in, say, a Game 7 against the Bulls in the semis? (Or, for that matter, in a Game 2 coming off a loss?)
I still have plenty of vitriol and 'hate' for the Heat--enough that even as a die-hard NYC sports fan I'd pull for the C's if it came down to that.
Mostly, though, I laugh at these athletes (three of the seven most gifted in the East since their careers began) for surrendering their pursuit of competition and trying in vain to scheme the League with their ententes and alliances. It's like trying to win a game of Risk with backdoor deals and payoffs while all along you know--you've gotta just throw the damn dice.

At 2/22/2011 5:39 PM, Blogger djbtak said...

Clever post, but way understates the hate out there for Lebron. Hate that I think is stupid and unjustified, but nevertheless.

At 2/23/2011 12:22 AM, Blogger Tom Doggett said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2/23/2011 12:24 AM, Blogger Tom Doggett said...

I feel like casual fans sitting around and bitching about him (much like people do about any polarizing athlete - Favre, A-Rod, etc) is just fox news mentality. Much like with A-Rod, anyone who actually appreciates the game admires Lebron as an athlete, even if they disagree with his decision(s). Everyone I know whose opinion I respect basically worships at Lebron's altar. Even those in my extended family - Irish AND Celtics fans - would begrudgingly agree to his awesomeness.

And I doubt Lebron cares if some ignoramuses hate him because they heard they were supposed to do so. They shouldn't matter to those who actually follow the game.

Although I will say that Brett Favre is a tool. That cannot be disputed, as far as I'm concerned.

At 2/23/2011 6:39 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I'd say he has been acting like an oblivious egotist. His comment about James Jones making the three point contest was something like: "I send a lot of teammates to the all-star game."

It's not that Mo Williams deserved it, it's just that Lebron's worldview is completely lebron-centric.

At 2/23/2011 9:10 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

It's just a beat that has hard hitting bass drums and 808's plus a loud horn...the beat is aggressive and quite frankly gets people pumped up...i've heard it in many weight rooms...i think that if they were really trying to go at people they would actually play the real song not just the instrumental...there is an edited version you know!.....and besides i think your reaching a bit too much with this whole LeBron throwing shots/ego stuff because if you look at Miami's intro's from past seasons on youtube you would see that they have been playing the same beat for about 4 years now, long before Bron got to Miami.

At 2/23/2011 9:15 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

By the way i live in LA and i'm a Lakers fan i just think this Lebron thing gets outta hand he's a basketball player not.....

At 2/23/2011 11:26 AM, Blogger Joey said...

@Jawon--good info. the music's incumbency makes me wonder two things: 1) these heat didn't make the connection i made? i imagine other people have noticed this. 2) why wouldn't they change it, all the same? i am not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, but this just seems so weird. and sure, the answer is probably "this is just what miami has been doing," but that only explains why it persists, not why someone hasn't noticed that it is striking.

At 2/24/2011 1:55 AM, Blogger Admiral Jameson Sax said...

FD - Do you think the Heat - and in particular LBJ - have anything to do with all of these strange mass animal deaths I've been reading about? I doubt it, but wanted your take. Scary stuff regardless. I'll hang up and listen.

At 3/02/2011 4:47 AM, Blogger wdm305 said...

I hate the part of the articel that that suggests that Chris Bosh is soft and C-Murder hard, because one is in prison, and one uses finesse to play his way into another all-star appearance. C-Murder is in prison for killing a 16 year old fan at a nightclub. Sorry, but I'm guessing there area lot of 16 year olds Chris Bosh could take without having fire off shots. Call Chris Bosh soft...even though people are wrong about that, but don't make this other dude out to be anything more than what he is...

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