Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Miami Hate

From the sports pages of the Miami Herald, posted on May 29, 2011, "Le Batard: We may as well just call it the Miami Hate," by Dan Le Batard:
Dan Le Batard writes, I was jarred by how the conversation felt with my radio audience last week.

[ Dan Le Batard] Me: Try to be classy, Miami Heat fans.

[Miami Radio]Audience: No.

[Dan Le Batard] Me: Isn’t there a high road to be taken here?

Audience: No.

[Dan Le Batard] Me: You can’t be throwing things at Charles Barkley.

Audience: Shut up.

It is ugly, and it is beautiful, and it is sports — tapping into emotions on the extremes. There isn’t very much, in other parts of life, that makes you scream curses at the TV while the baby sleeps in the other room. And I’m as guilty of being obnoxious about the Heat as anyone this season. This team, a symbol of civic pride in the only city I’ve ever loved, has made me unusually loud, defensive and emotional as America and its sports media roots against it. So I’m not wagging a parental finger from my soapbox at you, Heat fans. I’m just interested in exploring what it is about this team and city that mixes like gas and fire to produce this unprecedented Heat — and a rabid connection unlike any I’ve ever felt between our community and a sports team.

Joy is usually enough. Gratitude, too. But that’s not all you’ll find here. “Thank you!” is glued to “Bleep you!” The joy is mixed with anger, defiance and hostility. Grace, humility and civility are noble but not quite fun. And sometimes sports make us irrational, emotion trampling logic on the way to the party. Burning cars in a championship riot? That seems like a way to protest something, not celebrate it. It also speaks to a larger unhappiness in the homes and lives away from that arena.

If LeBron James ends the season holding up the trophy, our city runs the risk of becoming so unhinged that it will put off even more people from sea to shining sea. When we throw things at Barkley, a beloved icon, and shower him in curses during the Chicago series, we are just giving the media and America the snapshots and ammunition to smear all of us as barbaric, bandwagon baboons.

There is so much criticism in the coverage of this team that the Heat players get ripped for overcelebrating against Boston, changing the narrative almost immediately after the triumph. What is going to happen if a defensive, angry city overcelebrates with a radiator’s hissing relief after an entire season of abuse?

What is a hater?
This is all America’s fault. That’s what you are saying, right? Miami didn’t feel angry and defensive like this when the Heat won in 2006. How good and pure, and only good and pure, did Livan Hernandez's “I love you, Miami” feel in 1997? But America has been overly critical of this Heat team for months, rooting against it in a way so polluted that you can hear it even in the voices of an allegedly objective media. That’s a pretty negative way for America to experience sports, rooting for the other guy to lose instead of for your guy to win, but it is only part of the explanation.

The term “haters” is a plague. It is so dismissive. Lazy. It is either a conversation ender or an argument starter. It closes open minds. And the great soothing in it is that it never requires a mirror. It puts 100 percent of the blame elsewhere, on others, and wraps it in envy.

There is plenty of that at work here. Surely, anyone who cares about sports would want this team on its side. But we participate in exacerbating the envy the moment one frustrated fan throws something at Barkley to combat it, and we perpetuate it when the angry mob concurs that, yes, that is the proper rebuttal for haters. It is why the announcer kept pleading at the end of Game4 against Chicago, as debris filled the air, that anyone who threw things would be subject to arrest. The line between passion and stupidity gets crossed when you go from “In your face!” to “at your head.”

This team is a fascinating civic symbol. It is loud, flashy, cool, famous, passionate, envied, hated. Vanquished Chicago Bull Joakim Noah called the Heat “Hollywood as hell,” but “Miami as hell” would have been more accurate. Led by sugar daddy Pat Riley, the only way this team could be more Miami is if LeBron dunked while wearing Gucci sunglasses, Dwyane Wade smoked a Cohiba on his way to the rim and Chris Bosh played the post while sipping a cortadito (Erick Dampier, for the record, already holds up his end by playing as if wearing chancletas).

Best behavior

So even though these players have behaved honorably in representing the city all season, showing uncommon grace under uncommon pressure, it is easy to see why outsiders might think this team of ours wears too much cologne. Miami knows how to party, and these guys introduced themselves with a swaying, loud fiesta you don’t normally see before a ball has bounced. James, Wade and Bosh have said they don’t regret a moment of that introduction — that it was for Miami, not for anybody else. But too much of our city was built with drug money and is now plagued by foreclosures, so America views the assembly of this team as just another flashy Miami shortcut. And that stinks and stings if you have to witness it thrown in your face while shoveling snow from your driveway and trying to cheer Jamario Moon.

It is worth noting that Heat players, the ones who have actually carried the weight of criticism, have not reacted with defiance, though it would be understandable. In fact, after beating Boston, James not only knelt but took that moment of triumph, of validation, to finally apologize to Cleveland. It was a rather remarkable contrition, given what he has endured this season, choosing the moment you were right to concede where you were wrong. Many of us, after having our image run over by a convoy of 18-wheelers for a single Decision, might have spent the entire postgame constructing a parade float out of middle fingers.

But here’s the disconnect between James and the city that celebrates him so zealously now: He has a voice, a platform, a scoreboard and inordinate fast-twitch muscle fiber with which to defend himself. The Heat fan? Not as much. It’ll make you insane, not really having your desperate voice heard, and that is true whether you are at the bottom of a well or at the top of sports. New media like Facebook and Twitter has exploded in part because people just want to be heard — to have the platform old media has.

So poison and T-shirts and expletives get hurled at Barkley, ESPN personalities and all the media members who appear to be rooting against this team. Why? Because those people are a face and voice and symbol and punching bag. They represent every faceless “hater” in America who has rooted against this team. Barkley, meanwhile, can spew all over every newspaper, radio and TV platform without rebuttal — and be very popular everywhere outside of Miami while doing it.

When it escalates
The result? Hostility. Defensiveness. Frustration. Helplessness. (Until LeBron James dunks on your behalf.) And that leads you down an emotional path that is just a few exit ramps from taking pleasure in the pain of others. Just like those old Hurricane football anarchies, it isn’t just about your own team; it becomes about inflicting pain on someone else’s. I’m not certain if mixing the love and hate makes for a better sports experience, but it certainly makes for what feels like a bigger one.

I have a friend who travels the United States. He isn’t invested in this. He is impartial. He isn’t attached to this team, city or basketball. Everywhere he goes, when the NBA comes up, he hears, “I hate the Heat. I hope they lose.” When he asks them to articulate what they hate, exactly, they tend to sound dumb. Still, something about this team bothers people in a visceral way, and there are too many people that feel it, really feel it, to simply dismiss the legitimacy of it while filing it under hater.
But here’s how hostility escalates: Even Gandhi is going to get worn out if he hears “I hate you” over and over from every angle of America. People on the receiving end of “I hate you,” understandably, aren’t going to hear anything above that, no matter how rational, nuanced or muted the criticism becomes. And at some point, the basic human response simply morphs into this:

You know what?

I hate you, too. -- Dan Le Batard

(source: The Miami Herald)

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