Miami Heat: An Evil Empire for the NBA
Put those three high-profile free agents together and make a team we'd love to hate
To borrow a well-worn corporate catchphrase that just as easily could come from Jack Bauer's clenched, insistent jaw: Just do it.
Make it happen.
This has to happen. Needs to happen. There is no Plan B. (Unless you're the New York Knicks. In which case, enjoy Joe Johnson and another decade of complete and total irrelevance!) According to reports, NBA free agents-to-be LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are considering joining forces by signing with the Miami Heat, creating a superstar, super-powered alliance to shame NATO, the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers, the Galacticos-era Real Madrid, Devastator from "Transformers" and every time the Wonder Twins bumped fists to become an eagle and a bucket of water.
I'm all for this. Nearly salivating. Can't wait, actually. Because in forming a too-big-to-fail uber-squad, James & Co. would give me the one thing I'm missing as a basketball fan.
A new team to wholeheartedly detest.
Here's the thing. Some people root for certain teams, for Seinfeld-ian laundry, hometown or otherwise. Others pull for particular players. Either way, they revel in transitive triumph, draw vicarious joy from the hard-earned, richly deserved success of others. These fans want to be part of something bigger, something essentially positive, something that allows you to high-five people you don't even know and proudly purchase a commemorative T-shirt.
But me? I'm a hater. A sports blackheart. I revel in schadenfreude, in the taunting laugh of my inner Nelson from "The Simpsons" -- ha ha -- that comes from Duke going down in the NCAA tournament, Luis Gonzalez's bloop single arcing over Derek Jeter, Manning-to-Tyree. I don't root for the New York Giants; I root against the New England Patriots and the quickie publication of "19-0: The Perfect Season." A petty, pathetic mosquito to the ankle of athletic greatness, I'm animated by animus, by the delicious downfall of overhyped, overcelebrated overdogs. I make no apologies. I like things this way. (I save money on not buying jerseys, too.)
And that's why I need the Hydra Heat to become reality.
After all, it's hard out there for a pro basketball hater. Has been for years. There really hasn't been a tiresome, inescapable, media oxygen-sucking, fear-and-loathing-worthy NBA juggernaut since the Shaq-Kobe Lakers of the early 2000s -- and that team ironically imploded soon after adding title-glomming, over-the-hill mercenaries Karl Malone and Gary Payton, two moves that made the club extra unlikable. Talk about a wasted opportunity: on one hand, I was thrilled to see them soil their compression shorts against Detroit in '04; on the other, I've always lamented the hate that might have been, had they only won and stayed together. Sigh.
Since then, contenders have come and gone, none fitting the bilious bill. The Shaq-Wade Heat were one-and-done, too temporary and transient -- like the expendable characters in a Sam Peckinpah film -- to get worked up over. By dint of its efficient style and no-drama personalities, San Antonio was tough to dislike. Or like. Or feel anything about, beyond the technical admiration one might experience after using a particularly well-designed vacuum cleaner. For their part, the Big Three Boston Celtics were both too feel-good Ubuntu and too old -- hatin' on them would be the equivalent of hatin' on grandma -- while the current Lakers are a shadow of brighter hatreds past (Kobe, Phil Jackson), not dominating enough to get the job done, even with the recent addition of courtside Kardashians.
The Hyrda Heat could change all that.
Start with James, the No. 1A player on the planet, already gratingly ubiquitous in a Brett Favre-ankle-injury-update sort of way, prepackaged with inexhaustible storylines. Can he win a title? Can he win seven? Is he the greatest ever? When will he star in "Space Jam II"? Add Wade, a championship-winning superstar, the key player on the most recent U.S. Olympic team. Combine with fellow Olympian Bosh, a talented frontcourt scorer with a knack for Internet self-promotion. Mix in larger-than-life, success-book-penning, Gordon Gekko-forever-resembling Pat Riley, who is bound to return to the Miami sideline after current coach Erik Spolestra suddenly steps down to spend more time with his family. Season the pot with South Beach glamour, Worldwide Wes behind-the-scenes intrigue, inevitable on-court domination and equally inevitable off-court ego clashes. Oh, and don't forget the probable stampede of bandwagon fans from coast to coast -- sporting goods stores could make a killing offering Lakers-for-Heat jersey swap discounts, modeled after police department no-questions-asked gun buy-backs. Kobe who?
Simmer. Stir. Voila! Instant detestability. A merry, mercenary band of front-running brothers. The most imposing team-up since Voltron. A squad anyone who enjoys winning can get behind, and watch on national television at least 50 times a season for the next half-decade, each and every Christmas Day included, all while I roll my eyes in secretly delighted disgust.
Of course, this isn't just about what's good for me. It's about what's good for the game. Fact is, polarizing bullies enhance sports. Villains make things interesting. They force you to care, pick sides. Without the Joker, Bruce Wayne is a creepy, brooding semi-sociopath with a wiretapping jones and codpiece fetish; with the Joker, he's Batman, the misunderstood Dark Knight we need! Baseball is poorer when the Yankees stink, richer when they're just good enough to lose to the Florida Marlins. Duke made Butler's improbable Final Four run even more special; college basketball wasn't nearly as fun the year Erik Meek and the Blue Devils missed the NCAA tournament. Take away the Death Star, and the Ewoks are just a bunch of Teddy Ruxpins with spears. Ho-hum.
On his own, James couldn't transform the Cleveland Cavaliers into a fully operational battle station. Wade failed the past few seasons in Miami; Bosh in Toronto. Put them together, and everything shifts. Haters, like myself, get the locus we crave. The sport wins, too, by sheer dint of extra attention. Not to belabor the point -- and not to get all Bauer again -- but seriously, fellas, just do it already.
Speaking of which: James, Wade and Bosh all endorse Nike, the biggest, baddest shoe brand on the planet. How much more of a hint do they need?
Patrick Hruby is a freelance writer and ESPN.com contributor. Contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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