The Miami Heat: A Study In Perceived Extremes

Photo courtesy of Saschagrafie on Flickr

Hindsight being what it is, when the Miami Heat ultimately fall in the playoffs, a wave of columns (blog posts, Facebook status’, tweets) will materialize proclaiming the first super team a failure. We’ll hear about how the dynamic of two alpha dogs was doomed from the start. How the supporting cast was lacking in depth and talent. We’ll hear about how all those who predicted instant success for Miami Thrice were off their rocker from the beginning. Yet, the irony will be as soon as the first circus ends another will begin.

Of all the benefits that 24/7 sports coverage has provided, it has fostered a culture that is quickly moving towards the point of completely lacking any semblance of patience. Much like rabid fans live and die with every play, it seems as though teams and players write and rewrite their legacies on a week to week basis. Blake Griffin had barely established himself as a rising superstar when talk of him one day leaving the Clippers for another franchise began. The Lakers had some eyebrow raising loses prior to the All-Star break and suddenly their title hopes are collapsing. These examples pale in the face of what the Heat have wrought.

It wasn’t all that long ago we were content to watch teams and players develop over time. The ones destined for greatness were given leeway, the ends justified the means. When the Houston Rockets followed up their 1994 NBA Championship with a third place finish in their division it wasn’t as if anarchy had taken hold of southeast Texas. I was a kid then, but I followed the game intently enough to know that the sky wasn’t falling in Rockets land. There was a sense about things then – get to the playoffs, then the real games begin. It’s been the motto for the Spurs for the last decade and suffice it to say, they’ve done OK for themselves.

But the Heat? They’ve been anointed, torn down, left for dead, buried then dug up only to restart the process again from the beginning. Consider the following:

Miami’s Dwayne Wade Not Yet Holding Up His End Of The Bargain – Miami Herald, November 28th

Miami Heat’s Power Trip Continues – Miami Herald, January 8th

More Misery: Miami Heat Loses Fifth Game In A Row – Miami Herald, March 8th

It certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, but gives a timeline to the peaks and valleys of life in Miami this season.

With the Heat it’s an endless stream of extreme practices in perception. Lebron and Co. are either a juggernaut or a massive disappointment, there is no middle ground. They’ve run hot and cold to be sure, proving equally thrilling and frustrating when operating at optimal and subpar levels, but somewhere along the way the big picture has been lost when evaluating Miami.

History isn’t going to judge this team based on a nearly flawless month of December or meltdowns in March against Chicago and San Antonio. The Heat will be remembered as all potentially great teams are, by what they do in the playoffs. Few remember the way some of the Spurs championship teams meandered through the regular season, only that they were the last one standing when the season’s final buzzer sounded. The Celtics were close to being written off last season, the window having closed on their aging team, before pushing the Lakers to a decisive seventh game. The opposite is true for the back-to-back 60-win teams that Lebron led in Cleveland, years from now they will ultimately fade into obscurity as do so many teams that come up short.

No, there’s never been a situation like Miami’s before. The Heat entered the season with more hype than any team in NBA history, but that hype has manifested itself into a microscopic viewpoint of the franchise and its development. Every homestand is a test of cohesiveness, every road trip a postseason preview. The concept of judging a team on the merit of its final product has been lost in the blinding spotlight of South Beach.

Perhaps this is the future of the NBA. In a universe where players are seemingly constructing their own teams there isn’t room for patience and development – only results. How soon until we view the Knicks through the same lens of extremities? If the Nets buy themselves into contention will they be subjected to the same criteria?

There are certainly more questions than answers, an infinite number of divergent paths that ultimately lead us to one inevitable truth: the Heat may be perceived as operating at any number of extremes throughout the season, but they will be judged universally by what lies ahead.

Seth Carstens