x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The 'Big Three' we love to hate at Heat

The NBA could not have scripted a better good/bad guy scenario than the Dallas Mavericks against Miami Heat in to wrap up the NBA season.

NBA conspiracy theorists suspect the league of manipulating play-off outcomes, mainly through the referees' whistles, to extend a popular series or favour star-laden teams based in large markets.

Hogwash, all of it, though some of the non-calls against the Miami Heat in Game 6 on Sunday did make you wonder.

Look, sceptics, if you are wary about any machinations from behind the curtain, what about The Decision?

LeBron James's hour-long informercial last July to announce he would take "my talents" - notice he did not say "my will to win" - to Miami may have repulsed the masses. But it pleased the NBA, which promotes its hotshots like nobody else. Now it could aim the spotlight toward a city and get a Big Three (James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh) for the price of one.

Further, The Decision inadvertently created a team of anti-heroes, which was cemented by the pep rally where the Bigmouth Three promised South Beach a dynasty.

Villains are good for games of any ilk. Fans often relish cheering against, as much as for, someone. Professional wrestling concocts its own roles and narratives. "Real" sports cannot do so, but any organic results are welcome.

In the NBA, the good guy/evil guy dynamic has been lacking since the Detroit Pistons' Bad Boys, dating back two decades. (The Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal liaison was too complex for the multitudes to turn on them.)

This time, the league could not have scripted a better scenario. After James's declaration, ESPN became the Heat News Network.

For many other media outlets, he graduated from mere athlete to Hollywood-ish celebrity. (Case in point: the latest rumours - unsubstantiated - that his languid on-court demeanour might be related to girlfriend issues, linked to her supposed affair with another player.)

When the Heat played poorly early this season, the media trashed them. Viewers tuned in to delight in their misery.

When the Heat straightened up later, the media reminded their audience that anything less than a title amounted to failure. Viewers tuned in, fearing collusion by the Bigheaded Three would pave a shortcut to a championship.

Never mind that admirers of the sport set aside their ill will to applaud the Heat's ball sharing and praiseworthy team defence. Even the haters would have to admit Miami played the right way.

And there was delight at the NBA headquarters before the finals when the Heat qualified. A nation's rapt attention was assured.

While the Los Angeles Lakers might have been the preferred foe, the league lucked out with Dallas. The Big Bad Wolf Three made for an ideal counterpoint to the loveable Mavericks.

Desirous to grow the game internationally, the NBA could not have hand-picked a better series MVP than the humble German, Dirk Nowitzki.

NBA fans exulted when Jason Kid deleted his name from the Great Players Never To Win A Ring list.

If there was a potentially obnoxious Mav, it was Mark Cuban, the owner. He uncharacteristically clammed up, even shutting down the venomous e-mails for which he was notorious, thus diverting attention to the deserving players.

The stereotypes fell right into place: virtuous Dallas versus Miami Vice. Rarely before has a fan unaffiliated with either finalist had so clear a choice.

Well, the Bigwig Three got their comeuppance. Media pundits are dumping primarily on James, so he will be spared of such treatment here. (OK: why is LeBron considering a switch to hockey? Because they only play three periods.)

The harsh truth is, he is being punished, in part justifiably, by his vast potential and subsequent comparisons to Michael Jordan, the greatest of all time.

We should high-five James for his team-orientated soul. He tries to get others involved.

We should give two thumbs down for his passive nature, especially in crunch time, and his annoying habit of passing the rock without even considering a shot or drive to the basket.

Unless James undergoes a heart transplant, he will never approach Jordan, or even Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. In the NBA, talent takes you so far, then the will takes over.

Now the league heads into an uncertain off-season, with a lockout looming over what it claims is a broken system that resulted in an aggregate net loss of US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion) this season.

The timing could not be worse, what with the pleasant aftertaste left by a captivating regular and post-season.

Too bad they cannot fix it with a few referees' whistles.

 

sports@thenational.ae