Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
Yeah, I’ve had my fun with the Miami Heat crowds this postseason. I say “crowds” instead of “fans” because I am a fan, albeit a self-loathing one, and I can only comment on the people actually in attendance at the games who we see and (try to) hear on TV. As a denizen of the Miami area with family and friends still there, I know that a laid-back lifestyle can lead to, shall I say, a subdued atmosphere at games?
But you know what? That crowd delivered in Game 5. If you believe in such imperceptible things as the power of a crowd to push the home team over the top, then they certainly rose to the occasion Thursday night. And after my numerous shots at them throughout this postseason, it’s time to defend them against the cuddly, adorable Thunder fans that for whatever reason seemingly will be receiving our unending admiration.
On a personal note, I grew up in Pembroke Pines, a community just on the outskirts of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. I moved up north when I was 11. I tried small town life one time when I spent nine months in a Pennsylvania mountain town. I don’t need to elaborate on my experience, because the time frame “nine months” should tell you everything you need to know. Our family bolted for New York the following year and I’ve remained there ever since.
For whatever reason, when it comes to small towns and particulary the Midwest, we have to be sensitive to their “inferiority complex” and the extra meaningfulness of their teams as a result. There were people who were upset at not just how LeBron James left Cleveland (which was universally viewed with contempt) but also by the fact that he left Cleveland at all. Bullshit.
There is not a demographic of people pandered to more than the demographics that constitute Rust Belt Ohio and rural towns in Oklahoma. They’re the first ones politicians will throw under the bus when it comes to legislation and champion when they need votes. All you ever hear is statements like, “They don’t make ‘em back East like they make the good people here in <blank>”. While stumping on the campaign trail in North Carolina in 2008, Sarah Palin nonchalantly called these areas “Real America.” If President Obama had ever called Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, or Boston “Real America,” he’d probably be resigning in disgrace the next morning.
That’s the false dichotomy that’s been perpetuated since I became a sentient being: the heartland has the good ole’ god-fearing, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar average Joes and the coasts are filled with the godless, snooty, amoral, soulless heathens gay marrying their lattes and arugula. If you’re a Midwesterner or Southerner, you’ve got it pretty sweet: You can be resentful of the same people you’re soaking up sympathy from. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
We’re so happy for Oklahoma City’s success with the NBA and are extra mournful of Cleveland’s struggles post-LeBron because it’s really code for “We’d never want to live there, so our latent guilt can be mollified if they get a stupid fucking trophy, which our cities already have, along with the beaches and shit to do.”
Of course, the national media on ESPN has gone out of their way to praise the Oklahoma City fans for their unrestrained and unconditional support of their team while adopting a more derisive attitude about the disengaged Miami fans. I’ve heard Michael Wilbon, Chris Broussard, and Mike Breen make these points at times. Columns from Billy Witz and Bill Simmons have made sure to hammer home this point if it wasn’t clear enough on the telecasts.
That’s not to say I’m cynical enough to believe that how the Thunder fans behave is somehow a charade. Nor do I doubt they’re as genuine as they come across to outsiders. I don’t doubt that someone like Simmons was sincerely charmed by the attitudes of the residents he encountered. I just know that he was happy as fuck to be on his plane back to L.A. when all was said and done.
I fully believe the Oklahoma City fans have embraced their first pro franchise to an extent we couldn’t have imagined. But in contrasting the two home courts this series, little things stood out about the Thunder crowds: fake Harden beards; blue shirts that contained cheesy mottos like “One Thunder,” “Thunder Up,” and “Team Is Family”; some version of Thunderstix (pun intended). Then it dawned on me: This is the 2002 Angels crowd, only if Anaheim had no other pro sports teams nearby and was just savoring its first taste of success. OKC fans didn’t know exactly how to root for a team yet, so they overcompensated by throwing everything against the wall and seeing what stuck.
That meant people banging sticks and waving objects nowhere near the opposing free throw line.
It meant people in costumes like this:
And this guy with the Barkley nipples:
Their entire crowd is made up of the guy you hope doesn’t sit next to you on the train. I literally saw a guy wearing a cowboy hat in the stands! I know it probably makes me an icy-hearted cad, but I couldn’t help watching their crowds throughout the playoffs with the same reaction Bill Murray had in Groundhog Day upon first arriving in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. (From the 0:33 mark through the 0:47 mark of this clip):
Then again, at least Oklahoma City had a team in the Finals. This shirt from another Middle American sports city was even sadder:
Cleveland: We live vicariously!
I know the popular sentiment: The Heat doesn’t mean nearly as much to Miami as the Thunder means to Oklahoma City. LeBron James meant more to Cleveland than he ever will to Miami. But as a representative of the two major Miami sports teams, I’m tired of apologizing because All-Stars wanted to sign there and people other than me were at times less than enthusiastic when attending the games. I have witnessed a combined one championship in my time rooting for these teams, and the media made sure to taint any dignity or merit that championship had because of (admittedly atrocious) officiating. I can’t speak for everyone who calls themselves a Heat fan, but that team means as much to me as the Thunder means to Oklahoma City. And maybe my two homes of Miami and New York don’t have the same old-fashioned, wholesome charms as the quaint, less glamorous cities, but I wouldn’t change a thing about where I’ve lived, even if outsiders believe them to be narcissistic morally-vacant cesspools.
Yes, I’m an East Coast liberal elite rooting for a hated team in an apathetic market, and I’m damn proud of it.
Now where’s that latte and side of arugula?