The Heat and the Mavericks: Shades of Grey

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Sports fans are a harsh and unforgiving bunch. It takes us years to forget the most minor slights, and the bigger ones we carry with us to the end. And it seems that the Miami Heat, in stockpiling three of the most talented players in the NBA today, have earned the hatred of fans across the league. They are the league’s definitive bad guys, deserving or not.

It’s hard to say whether the label of ‘bad’ really adheres to the Heat. True, last summer’s barrage of Twitter hints and online rumours, LeBron’s eventual hour-long television special, the absurd Miami introduction with the awkward dancing, the pyrotechnic display and the prediction of innumerable championships to come were all in terrible taste, but these are examples of immaturity and errors in judgement, not of evil.

LeBron, Dwayne and Chris are young, competitive athletes who want to win, and who decided that their best chance of doing so was to band together. But rather than forgive them for their youth and their insatiable desire for victory, fans have painted them as everything wrong with the game of basketball, as the sport’s ultimate villains.

Throughout the 2010-2011 season, the Heat played their role to perfection. They had their obscene highs, such as beating down the Cavaliers in LeBron’s return to Ohio. They had their delectable lows, hitting rough patches over and over, failing to secure the East’s top spot, and navigating the first three rounds of the playoffs with Mike Bibby as their starting point guard. And they were booed every step of the way. But while they were perfecting their super-villain persona, no team stepped forward to claim the role of the definitive hero.

And then suddenly, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks emerged from the gritty wilderness of the Western Conference and were thrust into the role of saviours, the league’s last chance of stopping Miami’s malodorous plot for league domination. They have been almost universally defined as the ‘good’ to Miami’s ‘bad,’ despite the fact that they are no more deserving of the title than any other Western Conference contender.

If Oklahoma City had won the West, they would have been the humble young stars from a humble mid-size town against Miami’s unnecessary flashiness as a team and a city. If the Lakers had gotten through it would have been wise old veterans against irreverent upstarts. If it were the Grizzlies in the Finals, they would have been a fairytale story, Miami the ogre to spoil the fun. And the Mavericks are a rag-tag team of veterans making their final collective bid at the title while the Heat try to snatch it away.

I think that to pit the Mavs and the Heat against one another in the epic terms that have been bandied around is to do a great disservice to both sides.

The Mavs, fully aware of their collective age, of the pressure that comes with this one last chance at the chip, don’t need the added responsibility of playing dragon slayer for a league of disgruntled fans.

And the Heat, despite their brashness, their confidence that borders on profanity, the tainted beauty of their fast breaks and clutch-time shooting, may end up being one of the great teams in NBA history and deserve forgiveness for a misguided off-season that should not forever smear their heroics.

As such, to call the 2011 NBA Finals a battle between a likeable team and an unlikeable one, a good team and a bad, is not only an oversimplification, but it’s an insult to the quality of basketball being played. These are two teams in search of a victory, nothing more, nothing less. And while I won’t say you shouldn’t cheer for Dallas (I definitely will), don’t let your prejudices blind you to the talent Miami has or the joy with which they play.

GO MAVS GO!!

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