Heat's Act III: When They Strike Back
In Act II, our characters rollicked and pranced in their own egotistic suffering.
And now, we come to Act III, in which our characters respond to their tormentors, and fuel their rise to absolution with the hatred fires of their detractors.
If this sounds contrived, that's because it is. Just like "The Decision," and everything else that's gone on in the Free Agency Summer of Doom, this latest adventure by the Miami Heat is just another pre-planned media initiative. I'm shocked it hasn't been branded. I'm not judging. I'm just saying. If you think any part of this is organic, you haven't been paying attention.
When LeBron James dropped the latest tweet heard 'round the NBA world (of today), saying he'd been taking mental notes of everyone who had crossed him this summer, it seemed like something genuine. A crack in the shiny plastic armor James has surrounded himself with. That, if nothing else, is something even James' detractors can respect. Finally, something organic out of this manufactured persona in a manufactured summer for a manufactured superteam.
And then, less than 12 hours later, Chris Bosh is magically on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" program, discussing James and talking about how he is using the criticism to "fuel" him next season. Twelve hours, people. Then a few hours later Bosh discussed how he was "playing with people's emotions" during free agency and continued the day's theme: "Our goal is a championship."
It's somehow twisting the knife while turning your victim's own blade on itself at the same time. It ties into the anti-hero debate going on about James, but I'd argue we're not looking at the real expression of anti-heroism. Instead we're looking at a deliberate, orchestrated media plan, just like "The Decision," only geared to ride the backlash to the backlash. If "The Decision" was to get people talking, it was a success. If the partying and flaunting was to cement their status as the new men in black of the NBA, this latest endeavor capitalizes on those contrarians who love anyone who flies in the face of conventional ethics and do what they want.
In a way, the Heat are building themselves not as Charles Bronson, as our esteemed colleagues suggested, but in fact as Hannibal Lecter or the Kraken. They want to be regarded as monsters, the evil you pull for, instead of the outlaws working for good. Unfortunately, to represent that ideal, you need to not have your entire checklist of evil deeds planned out and executed with billboards and planes flying banners. It takes away from the sneaky nature of your disregard for people's intentions.
Meanwhile, this latest initiative to capitalize on the "fuel for the fire" approach is a direct takeoff from Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame speech. This isn't bad. Jordan's vitriol-fueled, career-spanning gloat-fest was genuine, and it's widely accepted in our society that not only do we condone that kind of resentment and bitterness, but we applaud it within the context of achieving athletic greatness. We're totally OK with you working solely to bruise the collective ego of everyone who has ever doubted or criticized you, in fact we celebrate it, but it had better be genuine.
And that's the problem with this whole new initiative. None of it seems genuine. We can easily regard it as superficial because that fits with the pattern we've seen from the Miami Heat this summer. "The Decision," the introductory press conference, the charity appearances, all of it indicates a vapidness that we find appalling, for some reason. Again, we don't care if you're actually baseless, but you have to fake depth well. Swearing vengeance on Twitter and having your Martin Short-equivalent third amigo declare your wrath on morning sports radio is not the way to sell us that you're serious about taking that step to "cold-blooded killer."
But what's stunning is that even in the transparent lack of sincerity in any of these events, they still manage to achieve their objective: keeping attention on them. The Heat have two of the top three jerseys in the league. Their exploits have been broadcast all over the globe in every conceivable media outlet. James has put his brand on the map, even if it's in a bad way. And now he's managing to suck in people back to supporting that brand, not with any sort of effective campaign, but just because it's human nature.
None of us are buying it. And yet we're still buying it.
Welcome to the new public opinion market. LeBron has it cornered. The Heat's plan continues on schedule. The only pesky thing left in their way is the actual games.