Let me apologize in advanced: I tend to hold nothing back and come off like a snobby entitled millennial. I root for winners. When I was a little guy growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I heard about this magical sports hero named Michael Jordan who tore through the NBA winning six titles in eight years. Apparently he was incredible but I didn’t know any better because I was seven years old when he won his last championship. I wasn’t even much of a basketball fan – my allegiances lied in the Chicago Bears, Blackhawks, and Cubs and I worshipped at the alter of football, baseball, and hockey. Finally when I reached my early-teenage years I started to fall in love with the game of basketball and more specifically the Los Angeles Lakers. I loved the flash and the feeling that every Laker game was an event. I loved the fancy new arena, Staples Center, and how everything around the Lakers just seemed … big. But most importantly I loved and looked up to the characters surrounding the Lakers like Kobe Bryant, head coach Phil Jackson, owner Jerry Bus, Shaq, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, and in the later years Trevor Ariza, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Pau Gasol.
Two interesting things happened in my life right in the middle of the Laker dynasty and my blossoming fascination with the NBA. First my family moved to south Florida, and second a new superstar LeBron James was emerging in the NBA. I still rooted for my Lakers religiously – from the loss to the Pistons in ’04 to the loss to the Celtics in ’08 and the back-to-back titles in ’09 and ’10 – I felt everything from great pain to ultimate jubilation. But there was a new team in my life – the Miami Heat. The Heat were flashy like the Lakers. The Heat played in Miami, pretty much the only location I could think of that mirrored Los Angeles. The Heat had Dwyane Wade who kind of resembled Kobe Bryant’s game, only much more flashy – so much so his nickname was “Flash.” The Heat even acquired one of my childhood favorites and former Laker Shaquille O’Neal. And then in 2006 my … yes my … Miami Heat won the NBA title. Eight years and two more titles later and I still can’t get the vision out of my head of Dwyane Wade slinging the ball into the rafters when the clock hit zero and Miami had beaten Dallas for the NBA title.
Life was good for a Laker and Heat fan. But that new guy LeBron James – man was he good. LeBron James was the real deal. I watched him from afar do amazing things in Cleveland like take a really bad team to the NBA Finals in 2007. Even though my Lakers won the championship in 2009 and 2010, I watched my new favorite player, LeBron James, fizzle out of the playoffs and could feel nothing but pain for him.
Then it happened. The off-season circus that was 2010 had culminated in seven words that changed the basketball world – and mine – forever: “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”
The last four years have been a blur. My Miami Heat, armed with my favorite player, went to four straight NBA Finals and we won two championships. I defended LeBron to every “hater” who would listen. I had to defend my allegiances to my Chicago friends. When LeBron lost in the 2011 Finals I, along with all of Miami, felt like we were the only ones defending him. When the Heat won two titles in a row I had to explain to everyone, “yes I was a Heat fan before LeBron came.” I had to defend other Heat fans – why we showed up late, why we left early, that we really were appreciative for everything he’s done.
And just as quick as he came and conquered, he vanished.
I’ve had almost a week to reflect on the Big Three era, and more particularly how LeBron left Miami and ultimately I’m not happy. Don’t get me wrong, LeBron will always have a special place in Miami’s heart, and to me he will always be one of my favorite players and I am grateful for those four years and two championships. But LeBron hasn’t learned anything in four years – no matter what spin the media wants to put on it. How he went about this decision was no different than how he went about the 2010 decision.
LeBron was scorned for The Decision in 2010 all the way up until five days ago when he made his second decision to return home. And how did he do it? An eloquently-written letter in Sports Illustrated. Not a television special or a press conference, but a very well-written letter in a magazine. Except the way he went about it is more hurtful than a television special. Why? For one he thanked everyone in the Heat organization but did not thank the Heat fans. The same fans who stood by him for four years as he was being scorched by the rest of the country. In case you forgot, LeBron, you were the most-beloved player in sports while you were playing in Cleveland then in a matter of seconds you were the most hated for four years. But not in Miami. We had your back. We didn’t make fun of you when you couldn’t close in the fourth quarter. We stood by you when you won the MVPs in 2012 and 2013 when most of the country felt it was rightfully Kevin Durant’s trophies. And yet you couldn’t take one sentence in your otherwise perfect letter to say “and thank you to the Miami Heat fans for four great years.” It literally took me seven seconds to write that.
It’s now come out that the letter was actually written and sent to Sports Illustrated about a week before its release and that you had made your mind up about going back to Cleveland as long as two years ago. Yet you still made team president Pat Riley AND Dwyane Wade come see YOU in Las Vegas. You met with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in Miami on SUNDAY at a SECRET LOCATION before you ever met with Riley or Heat owner Micky Arison. You allegedly didn’t even have the balls to tell Chris Bosh or Udonis Haslem face-to-face you were leaving, rather you sent them a text message. By the way, Bosh, Haslem, and Wade all made huge sacrifices by opting out of their contracts to help keep YOU here and Haslem and Wade lost millions of dollars by doing that.
I’m disappointed in you LeBron. I’m not disappointed you went back to Cleveland, in fact I applaud you for doing that. It will go down as one of the greatest sports stories ever told, especially if you win a title for a very deserving fan base. But I’m disappointed in how you went about your new decision and I’m even more disappointed in my colleagues in the media who are completely ignoring the facts and saying “LeBron has learned since 2010! Did you read that letter! It was AMAZING!”
True. It was amazing. But it hurt. LeBron still didn’t leave how he should have. He should have made Miami aware straight away he was leaving. He should have met with Pat Riley, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Udonis Haslem face-to-face in Miami and told them his intentions. He should’ve made his move swiftly rather than make the whole world sit on pins and needles for two weeks. And now everyone will sit and laugh at Miami Heat fans saying “they deserved it” and “this is what happens when you are not a real fan base.” Growing up in Chicago and seeing the United Center sell out for a mediocre team, or being a Lakers fan and seeing the Staples Center get wild for a 30-win team and a starting lineup of Old Man at point guard, Older Man at shooting guard, some guy named Swaggy P at forward, Mr. Irrelevant at forward, and Extremely Overpaid at center, it’s hard to stand up for Miami. This is the very same fan base who left early in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. I get it, you have ammunition to laugh at us. And it’s even worse for me because I have two teams who are easy targets. But the real fans are still here. And we never chose to have LeBron James. LeBron James chose us. Say what you want about Miami’s fair-weather fans, but Lebron chose us.
My Heat will come back next year with a lineup virtually the same as last year, minus the best player in the world, and my Lakers will be irrelevant for the next five years at minimum. It’s going to be hard watching basketball for me. It’s going to be hard seeing my rival Clippers, Spurs, Bulls, and Thunder contend for titles while my Heat struggle winning playoff series and my Lakers struggle to stay out of the NBA cellar. And it’s going to be especially hard to see LeBron James put on a Cavaliers jersey. As a fan of the NBA, I’ll enjoy it and truly believe it’s great for the sport. But as a Heat fan? It hurts. And it’s no different than when Cavaliers fans saw LeBron put on that Heat jersey.
I am not writing this for sympathy and I’m not writing a love letter and ode to Laker and Heat fans. I simply wanted to air out my laundry so maybe someone out there can understand that every fan base has real fans. Every fan base has real emotions. And right now the Miami Heat fan base is heartbroken, hurt, and disappointed.