NBA Finals Preview Through The Eyes Of A Magic Fan: Beat The Heat

I was born in 1985 and grew up in Orlando, Florida. Well before I was a fan of other teams/sports, I was an ardent supporter of the hometown Orlando Magic. Penny Hardaway (who can forget Lil Penny?); Dennis Scott with his magical drops in the bucket from behind the arc; and arguably the greatest player to ever don a Magic uniform (and universally break all our hearts) Shaquille O’Neal lit up the NBA for the young, promising franchise. Whether it was Nick Anderson stealing the ball from Michael Jordan en route to the 1995 NBA Finals (still gives me goose bumps just watching it) or the classic battles with Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers, the Orlando Magic were my heart growing up, and still hold a strong place there today.

There was also a team that buzzed like an incendiary gnat in my ear while growing up. The team that seemed to always beat us when they shouldn’t, and demolish us when they should. Their fans were (and remain) awful and incredibly disloyal. And then they acquired an old Cleveland nemesis who infamously “took his talents to South Beach” and proceeded to win those championships the Magic were always one play, one player, or one shot away from. The team to which I am referring is none other than the Miami Heat.

Firstly, when evaluating a team I loathe, I look at their fans. “Fans” (and I use that term very loosely) of the Miami Heat are fickle when the Heat struggle, and obnoxious when they win. In the 2007-08 season, less than two year removed from an NBA title, Heat fans deserted their franchise faster than passengers on the Titanic. Yet, magically, when the “Big Three” arrived, their fans came back like a bad habit. Yes, putting a winning product on the court is what people want to see, but to drop from 4th in overall attendance to 29th in less than 8 months (and in one season) says a lot about a city’s commitment to its team. And lest we forget the “middle finger incident” with this classy example of a Heat supporter saluting Joakim Noah after he was ejected for a game in South Florida. Bottom line: the people who visit American Airlines Arena to attend Heat games are stargazers that like to see and be seen instead of following the sporting event in front of them.

Secondly, I hate LeBron James. I honestly despise the man without ever having met him. I think he is an incredibly bad sport (who is unapologetic about it, I might add) that sets a bad example for kids aspiring to be athletes.

One, when still in Cleveland, LeBron decided to be a poor sport and a crybaby after the Orlando Magic beat his Cavaliers, exiting the court without shaking the hand of his opponent. Then he had the audacity in a post-game interview to say the following:

“I’ve seen everything the NBA has to offer, besides winning an NBA championship, so I have no problem with younger guys looking up to me. If they need advice, I’m one of those guys that would love to give it out.”

What a total tool. Even after winning a championship, he still couldn’t get one on his own with a team built specifically around him.

I respect his athletic ability. And there’s no denial that he will undoubtedly be in the NBA Hall of Fame and go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game. But I absolutely despise him for being such a rotten competitor and example of poor sportsmanship.

Thirdly, who doesn’t like an underdog story (though I’d hardly call the Spurs an “underdog”) in sports? The Spurs seem to defy age and laugh in the face of time with one of the oldest rosters in the NBA. They just keep winning, and don’t really listen to the chatter around them throughout the season.

Tim Duncan has been notoriously staid and boring in terms of media attention for most of his 17-year career (yes, 17 seasons in the NBA) as the Spurs’ big man. He is a class-act by all accounts: raising a family, never having even one whiff of a scandal, and choosing to eschew soundbites that might get play in the media – instead going with boring quotes that help him avoid unwanted attention. Though one quote did catch my attention after the Spurs vanquished the Thunder last week:

“We’re happy it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths still.”

The Heat would be wise not to underestimate the Spurs. Redemption and revenge are deeply motivating factors. And after losing their cool for a split second in Game 6, which led to a miracle 3-point shot by Ray Allen and ultimately a Heat win, the Spurs won’t be fooled again. They’ve played (and won) in the tougher of the two conferences, and have done so consistently – to the tune of 15 consecutive 50+ win seasons. They’ve won four consecutive divisional titles, and are the only team in the NBA with a .500 or better head-to-head regular season record against every active franchise.

So look for this writer, for reasons past and present, to be using the hashtag #BeatTheHeat all throughout this year’s NBA Finals. I hope it goes to Game 7 like last year, because that was one of the best series I’ve ever seen. And though it didn’t end the way I (and most every Magic fan and LeBron hater) wanted it to, it proved one thing: the Heat are no longer invincible. I think this year’s Finals will prove it even further when San Antonio shows age and experience trumps bloviating egos on South Beach. Go Spurs!