I was watching “The Dark Knight” recently and found myself thinking that the scene where Harvey Dent says “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” was appropriate for how things have changed for LeBron James in the eyes of Miami Heat fans over the past month.
In that time, Heat fans have gone from thankful to angry with how things have leaked out over how LeBron handled the decision.
I can understand how things got to this point. Pat Riley comes out and says that LeBron never returned his calls or texts, while not giving the Heat any indication that he was leaving. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem opt out of their deals, believing that they would be helping field another Finals contender around LeBron, thus insuring his return.
Funny how things worked out.
Heat fans have an understandable reason to be upset at the turn of events. We embraced LeBron when everyone was burning his jersey or trying to belittle his greatness, just because he took his talents to South Beach. But how could he leave? Doesn’t he understand how much we care?
Of course he does. It just doesn’t matter. The Heat were a paycheck and a means to a championship for him. That’s what was important.
And I’m OK with that.
I understand that this is the new reality of professional sports. Players can sign anywhere or get traded at any time. Like Jerry Seinfeld said: “We’re just rooting for laundry”. That’s the arrangement we have to come to terms with. It just seems a bit more twisted now, with players trying to take all the power in the player movement process, going so far as letting agents or other “sources” do all the talking through the media.
We live in an era where loyalty in sports can no longer be seen in black and white. For every Tim Duncan staying loyal to San Antonio, there’s a Dwight Howard moping in Orlando. While Wade takes less money to stay in Miami and help build a contender, Kevin Love is forcing his way out of Minnesota. How must Red Sox fans feel when Johnny Damon, Kevin Youkilis, and Jacoby Ellsbury sign with the hated Yankees? Don’t these guys understand the rivalry? Yes, they do. Money is just any easier thing to understand. What about Yankee fans? They booed these guys mercifully. Now? Hey, if you win us a title, we’ll forgive you!
Remember Ray Allen, Heat fans? How much did you love this? Well, I bet you couldn’t stand him when he was a Boston Celtic.
Thinking back to the summer of 2010, I thought there was no way LeBron would leave Cleveland. How can he leave his hometown? But when he chose the Heat, none of that mattered any longer. 15 years ago, if something like that happened, it would have been seen as LeBron really wanting to play in Miami because he enjoyed the weather, had a home here, was always a fan, etc. Nowadays, it’s purely a business decision. He came to the Heat because it was his best possible shot at winning a championship. I’ve always felt that he would have gone to any team that had the same situation the Heat had.
But he wasn’t leaving Cleveland unless he had to.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a story from 2010 stating that LeBron was openly recruiting Chris Bosh to join him…in Cleveland! Look at the date of the article – July 6th – was two days before the Decision. When Bosh declined going to Cleveland, LeBron wasn’t left with much of a choice. To win a championship, it was Miami or bust. Ultimately, he knew that. He wasn’t winning a ring in Cleveland any of the last four years. His career has been dissected to the smallest degree, so winning at least one title had to take some of the pressure off. He just had to leave Ohio to make that happen.
But in LeBron’s case, I’m not all that mad. I’m disappointed, yes, but not upset. I appreciate what he gave Heat fans these last four years.
Speaking of taking things to Ohio, Mike Miller posted a picture on Instagram of him shooting basketballs, while a LeBron Cavs jersey is up against the wall behind him. He then goes on radio and says that with James Jones signing in Cleveland, as well as openly admitting to recruiting Ray Allen to join them, then following that up by saying they were “bringing Miami to northeast Ohio.” This upset some Heat fans, as it was seen as some sort of slap in the face to Miami.
Miller was now deemed as a traitor, although it seems to be forgotten all the ridicule that was aimed in his direction when he was dealing with injuries in his first two years in a Heat jersey. When the amnesty provision was instated following the 2011 lockout, there were Heat fans asking for Riley to use it on Miller. But we’re not bringing that up, right?
I’ll always appreciate Miller’s contributions in a Heat uniform. His magical Game 5 of the 2012 Finals was the pinnacle of his time in Miami. The one night where fans actually got to see why he was brought in to help LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. His no shoe three in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals is a shot Heat fans won’t soon forget.
But we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want players to take hometown discounts or say “thank you” if they leave (which, by the way, LeBron did do).
I wrote a “Thank you, LeBron” column on the day he made his intentions to leave known. In it, I stated that it was more than likely that LeBron always knew he was going home. I respected it. Even in light of the events of the past month, I still stand by it. I’m beyond appreciative of LeBron for the last four years and will always be grateful that he chose Miami. Sure, I can be a bit bitter about it, or sometimes wander to LeBron’s Instagram page - like a broken-hearted ex; all that’s missing is me playing this in the background. But I do care. I love the Heat. I wish LeBron had stayed and we all can live happily ever after.
I’m also appreciative of Miller of fighting through those injuries to rain fire on the Thunder in 2012. I was at a random Heat/Raptors game in January of 2011. Wade and Bosh sat out, so Miller was LeBron’s number two that night. He would end up scoring 32 points, including 6 of 11 from three. It was the first time Miller showed Heat fans what he was capable of.
That can’t be lost in all this. Yes, you can be upset. But don’t let it take some of the shine off the achievements this franchise accomplished.
Maybe I’m just a jaded fan that has come to realize that the days of Larry Bird and Dan Marino are long gone. Derek Jeter is taking his final cuts as a Yankee. We want to be able to grow with our heroes, since it take us back to our youth. I miss those days. This is why we appreciate Wade and Haslem that much more; they remind us of what we truly love about cheering for our teams. We need more of that.
But we can’t let what’s happening now with LeBron tarnish our memories of him in Miami. He brought Heat fans to the pinnacle of the NBA. It’s something that can’t be taken away. We care more about these things because we can’t trade them, even if LeBron trades his black and red for mustard and ketchup.
We got four Finals appearances, and back-to-back championships. He can take the rings home. The moments stay with us.