The Utah Jazz play the Miami Heat tomorrow night in the one place in America where the Heat are loved.
Everywhere else, they're hated.
It's a true love-hate relationship.
It's become quite the national phenomenon, this Heat polarization. I Hate the Heat blogs are all over the Internet. Anywhere outside Miami the team is universally jeered. In a recent story in USA Today, a national firm that tracks the perception and popularity of brands reported that the only sports entities Americans view as more arrogant — a nice way of saying hate — are the New York Yankees and Tiger Woods.
Which is interesting. The Yankees have won 27 world championships in their history. Tiger has won 14 major championships in 14 years. They've earned the right to be loathed (or loved).
The newly incarnated Heat, with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, haven't won anything.
Still, they have openly stated their intentions — to win so many NBA rings that they'll run out of fingers — and they have brought together three of the best résumés in basketball and put them on the same team.
Apparently, that's enough. The survey cited in USA Today stated that besides the Yankees and Tiger, the only non-sports things viewed by Americans as more arrogant than the Heat are Haliburton, the company; Harvard, the university; and France, the country.
Welcome to the neighborhood.
The article didn't say exactly why America has jumped on the anti-Heat bandwagon, just that the survey contacted 16,000 U.S. consumers, or roughly the capacity of your average NBA arena. So it was not mere speculation based on a few extremists. The widespread dislike is well-documented.
I have to admit, when James, Bosh and Wade joined ranks last summer I had a knee-jerk reaction that, if put into words, would go something along the lines of I Hope They Lose Every Game.
I have since analyzed this visceral reaction, trying to make some rational, cognitive sense of it, and I've come to the conclusion it is pretty much indefensible.
From all reports and appearances, James, Bosh and Wade are, notwithstanding a contrary opinion from an ex-wife or two, good guys. Their friends like them, their children like them, they take care of their mothers, they do the occasional bit for charity.
Their big sin, the reason they have been castigated, is for personally orchestrating their collective confluence in Miami, a move seen as somehow bullying and unsportsmanlike. But where's the harm in wanting to align with the very best teammates possible and crush the competition? What is more American than that?
They even took pay cuts to chase their title.
A sports columnist at the Miami Herald, Dan Le Batard, wrote recently about the Big Three not only agreeing to take less than their market value so could they play together, but also kicking in some of their millions so Heat big man Udonis Haslem could remain on the roster.
According to the column, this summer Haslem, figuring the Heat could no longer afford him because of the salaries it was paying James, Bosh and Wade, was ready to move on and take an offer from Dallas or Denver.
Then, James, Bosh and Wade volunteered to lop millions off their long-term contracts so Haslem could stay on the team.
Haslem was so flattered, the story continued, that he re-signed with the Heat even though its offer was $14 million less than he could have made on the open market.
"It's love. It's not business. It's family," said Haslem. "Family has no price. Fourteen million dollars doesn't add up to what I would have been leaving behind."
Said Wade, "People say athletes are selfish and care only about money, but they're going to have to find another way to criticize us here."
Haslem, by the way, will be getting by on $4 million this year, and on $20 million over the next five — and he can rebound and defend and gets to play with three bona fide superstars who have promised to take him with them to multiple championships.
Kinda makes you hate them even slightly more, doesn't it?
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.