Led by LeBron James, the Miami Heat won the second of back-to-back NBA championships last week. As good as the team is, there are about as many Heat haters as there are bandwagon fans ever since the team, or more specifically, their Big Three (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) had that 2010 pep rally at American Airlines Arena. It was there that LeBron infamously said they'd win eight championships (“Not one. Not two…”) despite never having played one game together or even having a starting five at that point.
Some, or maybe even most of the hate goes back to a few weeks before that when after stringing the basketball world along for weeks, LeBron James announced which team he would play for during a nationally-televised, ESPN primetime special know known as “The Decision.” Of course fans of his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, which he was leaving, weren’t too happy with the perceived arrogance of “The Decision,” but that cable TV special also seemed to rub a lot of other basketball fans around the country the wrong way. So naturally, many of those wrong way fans became haters.
The true Miami fans, what little there are, were elated; but, LeBron James and to a lesser extent, Chris Bosh, joining the Heat brought in an entire new fan base from around the country.
“I don’t mind them at all,” says Corey Thompson, a family court supervisor who was raised in Miami and has been a fan of the Heat since they were an expansion team in 1988.
As a South Florida native, Thompson would be considered a true fan of the Heat and he has the scars to show for it. “It was tough following the team in those early years,” he lamented. “They lost a lot. But when they brought in Eddie Jones and Brian Grant to play with Tim Hardaway and Alonzo [Mourning], I thought that team could win a championship. Then Alonzo got sick with the kidney disease and they kind of fell apart for a couple of years. Winning the championship in 2006 was the high point of following the team, but I think they would’ve won in 2005 if Wade didn’t get hurt in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals. They rested him in Game Six and then lost to the Pistons in Game Seven. That was awful.”
Corey was obviously happy to see LeBron James, a future Hall of Famer, come to his team and as far as he’s concerned, the new fans are welcome, too.
“Hey, if people wanna root for the Heat because James is here, the more the merrier,” he says. “I have no problem with it. That’s how it was when he was in Cleveland.”
This new LeBron-inspired fan base is much larger than the indigenous Miami fans but then again, Miami is not much of a sports town to begin with.
So the Heat haters, most of whom had never given a second thought to the team pre-LeBron, began to launch all kinds of anti-Heat Internet memes, some going against the fans, some going against the team and others going against specific players, especially Chris Bosh. The Haters were looking for a chink in the armor and Bosh seemed to be the weak link. But as any basketball fan knows, the James/Wade/Bosh triumvirate is the best in the League right now; so, they can’t hate on them but so much. What really fuels the hate are the bandwagon fans who only got on board with the Heat when LeBron joined the team.
“Real fans are not about one player,” says Chris Riley, a Knick fan who was born and raised in The Bronx. “Real fans are about their team. Before LeBron made his decision, I knew one or two Heat fans. Now, I know 50 or 60.”
It’s the bandwagon fans taunting their friends who have not abandoned the team they follow because one player joined another team or because a perceived dynasty has been formed that keeps people rooting against the team from South Florida. They are similar to Dallas Cowboys fans, New York Yankees fans (which LeBron James claims to be) and until now, LA Lakers fans.
“People should stick with their team through good and bad,” says Riley. “I’m a Knick fan. I haven’t tasted a championship in my lifetime, but it’ll be that much sweeter when they win.”
When Miami made it out of the Eastern Conference and into the NBA Finals in just their first year together, their Western Conference opponents, the Dallas Mavericks, suddenly had a swarm of backers from around the country. Yes, Dirk Nowitzki has always been popular, but in 2011, the hopes of most of the country were riding on the shoulders of this German cat with the funny leg kick.
When the Mavericks finally eliminated the Heat in six games, the Haters let the Bandwagoners know about it, but at the same time, the Haters knew that the inevitable was down the road and the Heat would eventually get that championship ring. Most fans (and I’m talking 99% here) recognize that James is at least the best player of this generation and will be a Hall of Famer at the end of his career. It’s the bandwagon fans that have become the sticking point for most watchers of the NBA.
“I don’t hate LeBron,” explains Riley. “He is one of the top players of this generation and probably the greatest physical athlete of this century. Of course, he’s gonna win a championship. I’m not mad at that. It’s just these so-called Heat fans that annoy me. If you can’t tell me anything about the Heat before Dwyane Wade’s first Championship in 2006, you’re not a Heat fan. And when they say, ‘I’m not a Heat fan, I’m just a LeBron fan,’ that’s not a real fan. That’s not what real fans are about.”
If you talk to one of the new Heat fans, you’ll get quite a different story. Derrick Hawes is a Washington DC native who owns a commercial cleaning business and is a self-described Heat fan who says he was on board long before “The Decision.”
“I became a Heat fan when Alonzo went there,” he says. “When was that, 2000?”
Actually, Alonzo joined the team in 1995.
“Watching them battle the Knicks was the most fun I had following the team,” Hawes continues. “The worst time was when Alonzo got sick. They went downhill at that point, but I stuck with the team because I sympathized with them. I always rooted for them a little bit because they were an underdog. But then they got Wade. He started putting up points. They got Shaq and won a championship and you can’t turn your back on them then.”
Even though he claims to have become a fan when one of his favorite players joined the team, he says that he is not a bandwagon fan.
“People wanna be with winners. That’s part of sports. People jump on bandwagons all the time. It’s just that because of LeBron, they’re making a big deal about it with the Heat.
“When Alonzo went to the Heat, I was not a bandwagon fan. I’m from DC. I like Georgetown. That’s why I like ‘Zo.”
So Derrick must have been torn when Roy Hibbert’s Pacers were battling the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
“The Pacers! I don’t like the Pacers,” Hawes loudly exclaims.
But, Roy Hibbert was a big deal at Georgetown.
“I’m an old school Goergetown fan,” he says dismissing Hibbert’s alumnus status.
So you must’ve been a big fan of Dikembe Mutombo’s Denver Nuggets.
“Mutombo,” he asks.