We’re All Pretty Bizarre. Some of Us Are Just Better at Hiding It, That’s All.

From top to bottom, the Miami Heat are a pretty captivating team.

Dwyane Wade needs no introduction; he’s all-world, and if injuries hadn’t temporarily halted his career’s momentum, he would have single-handedly propelled the Earth into the sun. But as it stands, he’s a hyper-charismatic telepathical knight who knows the secrets to all space and time. I guess that’s good enough.

But down from Wade, the Heat are a rag-tag group of promising young players, cast-offs, and stopgaps. Michael Beasley is a terrific talent, but his off-court (and online) troubles of various kinds have eclipsed his promising improvements. Mario Chalmers is a good player with plenty of skill, but he’s still the NCAA standout that somehow couldn’t merit a first round pick. Jermaine O’Neal wore out his welcome in both Indiana and Toronto, only to find new life this season behind a cleaner bill of health and some team stability. Quentin Richardson was traded to 29 of the league’s 30 teams in the off-season, and his expensive price tag and limited skill set make him both an expensive luxury and a provider of a much-needed service in Miami. Carlos Arroyo once had the buzz at his back coming off Puerto Rico’s upset of Team USA in the 2004 Olympics, but since was bounced off of teams and out of the NBA before making a grand return to bolster the Heat at point guard. Jamaal Magloire is the worst All-Star to ever live. James Jones and Daequan Cook are each other’s worst enemies, as they end up splitting time when all Jones wants to do is play defense and Bowen it up from the corner, and all Cook wants to do is launch up threes every time he touches the ball. Joel Anthony manages to look like a pretty decent shot-blocker in the 2008 Olympics, and then immediately manages to revert to his former self the second he steps on a NBA floor. And Shavlik Randolph? Yakhouba Diawara? You get the point.

Every team and every player has their story. Maybe they bounced around the D-League, or recovered from an injury, or overcame some real life, non-basketball issues. But when you look to the Miami roster aside from Wade and Udonis Haslem, it’s just tale after tale of ‘disappointment.’ Each of Miami’s role players has found a fairly unique way to fail, and while that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the quality of this bunch, I don’t mean to tear them down. Although this particular group of players may not be the most talented supporting cast, they’re certainly able, and beyond that, they may be the most interesting such group in the NBA. If you ever had the luxury to invite an entire team to a dinner party, there are a few no-brainers. The Spurs, for one, who are much more interesting people than they let on. The Cavaliers, maybe, because their camaraderie and genuine like for one another is downright infectious. But right with those squads has to be Miami. On the floor, they’ll fool you into thinking they’re a cohesive unit at times. But in terms of personality types and personal narratives, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Somehow, Wade’s transcendent talent and Erik Spoelstra’s underrated abilities as a coach manage to hold everything together. It works. Not at the level of the Magic, Celtics, or Cavs, but certainly at a respectable level given this team’s unique context. I wouldn’t say it’s uncommon for players of diff’rent strokes to play together under a banner, but the Heat simply take that possibility to a ridiculous extreme. They’re a complex bunch with diverse histories and backgrounds, even if we want to see them in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions: a “pothead,” a draft bust, a maligned star, a consummate workman, a gunner, an outcast, a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Just add basketball everything else disappears.

Seth Carstens