Andy G: In I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman devotes a chapter to hating rock bands. He runs through a list of every band he’s ever hated, explains the specific point in his life, and why that particular group evoked irrationally negative feelings from him. The chapter is largely focused on The Eagles. In the end, Klosterman forms the discomfiting conclusion that he now no longer possesses the capacity to hate rock bands. Even The Eagles. (He included the band three different times on his list.)
He explains why this is problematic:
Being emotionally fragile is an important part of being a successful critic; it’s an integral element to being engaged with mainstream art, assuming you aspire to write about it in public. If you hate everything, you’re a banal asshole . . . but if you don’t hate anything, you’re boring. You’re useless. And you end up writing about why you can no longer generate fake feelings that other people digest as real.
Klosterman goes on to explain his “brain’s unwillingness to hold an unexplained opinion,” and articulates a general feeling that I’ve struggled with on this blog. Caring about sports — or art — is not a rational exercise. Hating a professional athlete or sports team is as dumb as hating a rock band. Hating a professional athlete is as irrational as loving one. Those are emotions far too strong to hold for people that don’t even know that you exist.
Reading that chapter reminded me of the Miami Heat and its best player, LeBron James.
I hated The Decision. I hated LeBron’s *decision* itself to overlap his talents with Dwyane Wade’s, I hated the primetime stomach-punch to Cleveland, and I hated the Kobe rip-off, “taking my talents” delivery pitch. I hated everything about LeBron exercising his rights as a free agent.
Four things about Heat Hatred:
1) It was — or seemed to be, anyway — the prevailing view, outside of South Florida. I was hardly alone in hating The Decision. Mainstream sports fans were turned off by it, and cheered against the new and improved Miami Heat. When they choked away the 2011 Finals, America was delighted. A book was written about James, titled, “The Whore of Akron.” A lot of people bought it. In a matter of minutes on that fateful Thursday night, LeBron went from popular sports hero to reviled sports villain.
2) It was entirely irrational. Outside of Cleveland, anyway. There is no reason that a sports fan who doesn’t have much interest in the success or failure of the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Miami Heat should care whether LeBron plays in one city or the other. He was a free agent and made a choice. The entire sports world waited anxiously for the news, and LeBron channeled that interest in a way that raised millions of dollars for charity.
3) It represents the type of faux outrage described by Klosterman as an essential part of being a successful critic. LeBron might be the greatest player to ever live. His Decision shifted the entire landscape of the Eastern Conference and NBA. If we let something trivial like — you know — basic logic, get in the way of attaching meaning to this event, there begins a slippery slope toward calling the entire business of sports fandom into question.
Put simply: Love it or hate it, The Decision had to carry meaning beyond the win/loss column and championship rings.
4) It had an expiration date. Not for everyone, obviously, but I think for most. I no longer *hate* the Heat. After their early blunders like the press conference counting out future titles, and the awkward Wade-James chemistry in that first finals, the Heat found their identity. LeBron plays a lot of power forward. They force turnovers and streak down the floor for mind-boggling alley-oop dunks. They’ve won two championships with LeBron dispelling any notion that he isn’t “clutch.”
But more to the point of this post (FFS, this is a long intro–thanks for coming this far with me) this coming year’s Miami Heat might not only be not hated; they might be a very easy team to support. They signed two PDW-faves, Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. And they ditched Mike Miller. (Eds. Note: Draw your own conclusion about Miller.)
Patrick J, what say you?
Patrick J: There’s no reason not to cheer for them. In fact, there’s every reason to cheer for them. First of all, as annoying as The Decision was for the way ESPN sold it, LeBron’s handlers bought it, and LeBron bought into it, I never really blamed LeBron. He didn’t know what he was doing–until it was too late. But yeah, it was a car crash in slow motion. Eek.
The thing is, at the time, Dwyane Wade was my favorite player. LeBron James was my second favorite player. Miami is a cool city. I think that’s what the NBA and ESPN and LeBron’s handlers were counting on people to think. And as disgusting as The Decision-as-reality-tv-advertising was, I think that’s what all the stakeholders wanted–and expected–people to think. And to buy into.
But as we know, there was a big backlash, because they did it all wrong. People saw through it. LeBron wasn’t the personality to carry it out. He’s not really that kind of guy. He’s just not that phony. He’s still somewhat immature, but at least that’s him. I accept that. And like that he now appears to be more comfortable being him. That’s part of why I let The Decision go, and just enjoyed the Heatles from Day 1, even though as much as I liked Wade and James individually, it took a long while to warm up to them as teammates, because they aren’t natural complements.
On Beasley and Oden: We at Punch-Drunk Wolves have been on record as card-carrying Beasley supporters since he was a Timberwolf. And, hey, we aren’t shy in admitting this– we like pure talent, even if it comes with fatal flaws. Which means that we also have a somewhat unhealthy infatuation with Greg Oden. We’re taking bets on what’s more unhealthy, our infatuation or Greg’s arthritic knee condition.
You already know the score. The Heat amnestied Mike Miller–a bona fide p*ssy whom we came to loathe during his non-shooting times in Minnesota, and whose “I’m down writhing in pain look at me” acting jobs should qualify him for a remake of PLATOON (or TROPIC THUNDER (!)). And they added two of our favorite players who were out there left for dead–Super Cool Mike and Greg O–so we’re even more intrigued with the Heat than we were when it was purely an ESPN experiment. What’s not to like?
Andy G: Speaking of cool players who — I suppose — aren’t very good at professional basketball, there’s big news out of NYC:
(Eds. Note: And it goes a somethin’ like this…) RICKY BUCKETS!
Yes, that Ricky Buckets.
Buckets is headed to Knicks camp. Well, Knicks “mini-camp,” anyway. Whatever the case, even an infinitesimal chance of Buckets joining forces with JR Smith in Gotham is worthy of PDW’s attention. Excuse me for a moment while I quote Bill Simmons from 2008:
After playing such a pivotal role for the Tankapalooza All-Stars in Miami, Ricky has a rare chance to become one of the biggest losers in the history of sports. Some relevant stats for you: He has played in 661 career regular-season games but only 10 career playoff games; he has been traded five times; his teams from 2001-2008 finished a combined 175 games under .500; he has played for a 17-win team and a 14-win team; and he has had 224 different teammates told by a coach or front office official, “Look, you’re not allowed to hang out with Ricky after 10 p.m. under any circumstances, are we clear?” The best part? He’s only 29! He still has four or five more teams and the inevitable Clippers’ stint in him! Has anyone ever lost 1,000 career games before?
(Eds note: for a fantastic, and more serious look at the Life and Times of Ricky Davis, see the Jonathan Abrams Grantland piece from back in April.)
Simmons was spot on with that Buckets-on-the-Clips prediction. We once saw him in his Clips uni and in a rather unusual setting.
Patrick J: So the crux of the Ricky Buckets story is the following:
Andy G and I had “backstage passes” to a Wolves game (basically, a behind-the-scenes tour at halftime, that extended into much of the third quarter), invited because we were active participants at the Canis Hoopus blog. We walked through the locker room, the training room, etc–we got to see where Al Jeff and others were trying to heal their various woes–and then we walked through the tunnel back toward our seats. En route–and this was mid-third-quarter of the Wolves-Clip Joint game, mind you–we encountered Ricky Davis walking down the tunnel, not on the Clips bench, as would be expected from a key bench contributor, but rather as a player who appeared to be coming from the Timberwolves’ parking area, where he *might* have been doing nefarious things–and knowing Ricky, as a good-time guy, who’s to say he wasn’t doing nefarious good-time guy things? *All we could observe was the guilty grin on Buckets’ face as he passed by the confused admirers standing in the tunnel, in his path *back to the arena*. Given Ricky’s checkered history, it’s somewhat amazing that he’s now looking at another chance at an NBA squad.
Godspeed, Ricky Davis.
Andy G: On this subject of enigmatic hoopsters, let’s go ahead and close with this nugget from Alex Kennedy:
What can we say–we like who we like. We’re fans. It’s entertainment. Oh, and yeah–it’s going to be a very fun season.