Author’s Note: This column appears in the Feb. 9 issue of The Villanovan
Did you see that NBA game a few weeks back? You know the one I’m talking about, right? It featured that team with all the superstars, who play where the sun shines year-round. You must know which team I’m talking about—they’re on TV all the time. Remember that highlight dunk where that one player leapt over the other? It made ESPN’s Top 10! I’ll tell you what: I love that team. I hate that team.
Because in the NBA, two teams meet all of the above criteria, but elicit very different reactions. Like most fans of the NBA that do not reside in either Los Angeles or Miami, I love the Clippers, and I hate the Heat. But why? Why do fans have such varying reactions to two nearly identical teams?
The similarities are striking. First, both teams have two bona fide superstars with highlight-ready styles of play.
In South Beach, it’s LeBron and D-Wade. In Lob City, it’s Blake Griffin and CP3. Four players that are unquestionably in every expert’s Top 10 list of the best players in the NBA. But more importantly, the four players are arguably the top four highlight-producing players in the league. For example, LeBron’s recent “alley-oop-over-a-helpless-John-Lucas” was dubbed Dunk of the Year by Twitter, ESPN and the like. That is, until 24 hours later, when Griffin scaled 7-footer Kendrick Perkins like King Kong climbing the Empire State Building.
Next, both cities find themselves with a historically weak franchise with title aspirations, so much so that players are taking pay cuts to go there.
The Clippers have been the butt of every NBA-related joke of the past two decades. They’ve employed such morons as Mike Dunleavy, Michael Olowokandi and Darius Miles. So when Griffin underwent knee surgery before playing a single NBA game, fans assumed it was just Clipper business as usual. But now that Griffin is healthy and Chris Paul is running the point, players have been lining up to play in Lob Angeles. Recently freed from his Chinese contract, Kenyon Martin—a legitimate NBA talent—took a (relatively) paltry $2.5 million deal to play with Griffin & Co. In comparison, his last deal was for $91 million over seven years. Martin wants to win, and the Clippers offer that opportunity.
Similarly, in Miami, players are taking cuts to take their talents to South Beach. Former star-turned-amateur-sumo-wrestler Eddy Curry is making just over a million a year, and title-starved veteran Shane Battier signed up with the Heat this offseason for what might be his last chance at a championship.
Still, poll basketball fans around the country, and the answer will remain the same. The Clippers are fun, and the Heat are pretentious. And I think I have it figured out.
As sports fans, we obviously want one thing for our teams above all else: to win. We like to think that the players we root for have that as their number one goal as well. That might not always be the case, but that’s a different argument entirely.
On the court, we want our players to fight as hard as they can, leave it all on the line and live up to every other cliché that fits the given circumstances. If you cheat, we deride you. If you try to skirt the rules, we judge you. If you try to gain an unfair competitive advantage, we don’t trust you. Hence the difference between the Clips and the Heat.
Two summers ago, LeBron, Chris Bosh, and Wade colluded—details of which are still a bit fuzzy—to create a super-team of three of the top players in the NBA. Technically, nothing they did was against the rules. But by maneuvering around the free agency minefield, the Heat were the first team to be constructed by the playersrather than the agents and general managers. One would think that this radical construction would make us more likely to support them. By taking control of their own destiny, they could be America’s team. But instead, everything about the Heat’s creation felt contrived, from the meetings James held where prospective suitors wooed him like a contestant on The Bachelor, to the welcoming ceremony where the theatrics rivaled that of a Madonna halftime show. (Sadly, no slack-lining dancers.)
In L.A., you could literally watch the genuine enthusiasm of players Griffin and DeAndre Jordan as they learned the news that Paul would soon be joining them. The two big men were caught on tape celebrating when they learned the All-Star point guard was headed west. Griffin even coined the term “Lob City” amidst the chaos, effectively ending the careers of at least three marketing interns before they even started. Yes, NBA Commissioner and Supreme Ruler David Stern did make a slightly-more-than-questionable decision by vetoing the trade that would have sent Paul to the other Staples Center locker room, but the point is this: The Clips were born in the same fashion that every other contender has been before—organically, through trades and smart drafting, with a few brilliant free-agent signings mixed in.
Does it make sense for us to hate the Heat? No, not really. Personally, I can’t stand LeBron for the arrogant way he rebuked Cleveland, all for an easy road to a championship. But should we hate the Heat for exploiting a loophole? It’s essentially the same argument that pundits make against Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The man is celebrated for being a shrewd businessman, but chastised for using his understanding of the tax code to reap personal gains. We want people to succeed in America, but we can’t stand if their knowledge of the system swings the odds too far in their favor.
Who knows the true reason why everyone hates the Heat? Maybe people just resent LeBron for not accepting the fact he’s losing his hair. Maybe the idea of Chris Bosh holding up the Finals trophy is far too terrifying for any NBA fan to visualize. I don’t know. But I do know one thing. Since my Celtics won’t be winning anything this year, I’m pulling for the Clip Show this year.
Lob City trick, Lob Lob City trick.