When LeBron James and company rolled into Philips Arena this season to play the Atlanta Hawks I was shocked by what I saw. I was shocked by just how well the Heat played together, but I was even more shocked that the crowd was almost unanimously behind them. Atlanta sports fans’ historically fickle support for their teams aside, it was truly head scratching just how ubiquitously fans had come to accept and embrace this once loathsome team.
I asked Dwyane Wade about the sea change of fans in visiting arenas from the first year the Heat’s Big 3 – Wade, James and Chris Bosh – had gotten together.
“Pssh!” Wade laughed. “Total opposite. We’d get booed from start to finish [in 2011-12]. Now we’ve changed the mindset. We just play the way the fans like it.”
The Heat’s style of play hasn’t changed, but if you check Twitter, Facebook or any other social networking platform, the fan’s taste for it certainly has.
Many people will tell you that they’ve hated the Heat all along, and in some cases that’s true. But for the most part it appears that the hate pendulum has already swung back against them. Last night “Spurs in 6″ was a trending topic and folks, from everyday Joes to verified Twitter profiles who had been swearing their undying allegiance to the Indiana Pacers, were announcing plans to go out and purchase all the san Antonio Spurs gear they could get their hands on the next day.
Some of my favorite tweets from last night:
“I’m coming int @NewEraLA tomorrow to get a Spurs hat.Im taking my Bulls & Pacers hats to Goodwill in the AM.These playoffs are killing me” – Michael Rapaport (@MichaelRapaport)
“The #Spurs built their big three, the #Heat bought theirs. Now we’ll see which way is truly better. #NBA” – Manuel Avila Jr (@ManuelAvilaJr)
“I hope the Spurs sweep the Heat just to make Erik Spoelstra’s paper route extra uncomfortable.” – Jeb Lund (@Mobute)
“Ben!! No! RT @Ben_Patton: The Pacers may have lost the series but they won my respect. Now cheering for Heat to take the Spurs!” – Eva Longoria (@EvaLongoria)
Interesting that Eva Longoria is still a Spurs fan…
But the best tweet of the night and the one that best encapsulated the spirit of the evening had to be:
“Suddenly, rooting for the Spurs” – Things White People Like (@Things4WhitePpl).
But why? Or more specifically, how? How has the tide of popular opinion swung so quickly and so violently against the Heat? Or have the trolls just been silent all season, waiting until the playoffs to announce their unrepentant disdain?
The Heat haven’t been helped by celebrity endorsements from Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Ochocinco and this gentleman, but this isn’t a new phenomenon.
I’ve held a theory for a while that Americans hate greatness; more accurately, Americans hate dominance. In most things, but particularly in sports, we hate the idea that someone or some entity is unbeatable or that there is a force incapable of being toppled. We like to think that, like us in our everyday, mundane existence, even superstar athletes are fellable and that everyone has a chance.
Still, I’m a bit puzzled by how quickly everyone has turned on Miami after only one championship. I mean, they’re still playing the same brand of fun basketball they were during the season. And they’re only going for two, not three, not four, not five, not six…