Forget it all.
Their massive free agent splash this past summer when they scooped up the three biggest names on the market. Their young, polarizing head coach. The way two of their stars left their past employers in less than noble fashion.
It’s all been said time and again.
But here’s the thing about the Miami Heat. They’re good for the NBA. Their very existence has made NBA basketball — whether you’re in the United States of Timbuktu — more interesting.
Even here in the wintry northern regions of North America, where skates and sticks are assumed to reign supreme over sneakers and shorts, basketball is currently trumping hockey in terms of relevance and much of it is because of those Heat.
If you believe Twitter — and the abundance of basketball stories running everywhere — basketball, not hockey, is the sport of interest in Canada today at the approximate halfway point of the season for both leagues. The NBA is dominating the discourse online — where all those coveted 18 to 34-year-olds like to spend much of their time.
Sure, it helps to have legitimate crazy people like Ron Artest employed in the league. It also helps to have human highlight reels J.R. Smith and Blake Griffin running amok. Not to mention Kevin Durant, possibly the league’s best young player who is doomed to obscurity because A, he isn’t an attention-seeking egomaniac and B, he plays in a non-traditional market.
But despite all that, it always comes back to those dastardly Heat.
It was the Heat, after all, who dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers in dramatic fashion Sunday night, receiving 96 of their 107 points from the big three. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The whole exercise was capped by this dagger from — who else? — James who followed it up with a series of taunts to the booing crowd.
It was a meaningless, mid-season game but it sure felt like it wasn’t one to miss, didn’t it.
Like it or not, James has fully embraced the role of NBA villain in 2010, and as the wins continue to pile up and the first of what seems to be an inevitable series of Miami championships looks more and more unavoidable, James and Co. have flown in the face of their critics and laughed.
When the Heat stumbled out of the gate, staggering to a .500 record after 18 games and spurring calls for head coach Erik Spoelstra’s head — the three-headed monster didn’t flinch. No doubt they knew the best was yet to come — it was and it probably still is — even as it seemed like the team was crumbling around them.
The Heat are 21-1 since that point, outscoring their opponents by an average of more than 12 points per game in that stretch. That’s scary good.
Plus, having a leading man like James, with a supporting cast featuring Wade and Bosh, to hate, boo and criticize turns sport into theatre — and boy do we love theatre.
The NHL tried to create that theatre for their Winter Classic last month, with an HBO series and heavy American advertising billing a clash of the sport’s two biggest stars — Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
It worked — for a day. The Winter Classic received unprecedented ratings for a Saturday evening hockey game in the United States. But on Jan. 2 Americans turned the sport off again — banishing it to irrelevance until at least the playoffs.
Fans aren’t sold on the Crosby vs. Ovechkin drama because there really is no drama to speak of. The two don’t seem to mind one another and rarely say anything worth quoting in the press. There is no villain in the scenario and to American sports fans, that isn’t interesting. And many Canadians, it seems, are following suit.
The NBA has a nightly morality play to sell to viewers — The Heat vs. the world. The NHL has no such thing and to your casual sports observer, that means the 30-odd games each NHL team will play in February and March add up to dog days. Even when controversial figures like Sean Avery or P.K. Subban make some noise in the NHL they are discouraged and muzzled — chided for violating the honour code of hockey.
Meanwhile, the NBA capitalizes on James’ willingness to play the bad guy while the NHL has to sit and hope their chosen ones Crosby or Ovechkin will simply do something notable.
If Twitter and online news sources are any barometer, that’s making the NBA more popular in Canada than even our unofficial national game. And it’s thanks to those folks in South Beach everyone loves to hate.