Unraveling the hatred of LeBron James and the Miami Heat

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lebron_james_miami_heat.jpgThe Heat have new fans coming out of the woodwork, but the massive backlash against the assemblage of talent in Miami has been absolutely impressive.

It’s understandable that people would disapprove of LeBron James’ decision to ditch his “hometown” Cleveland Cavaliers for another team. It’s even more understandable that people would be opposed to the way in which he announced his decision; LeBron’s televised special was the epitomical act of celebrity athlete masturbation, and it should be understood that sports fans of all walks will likely resent that kind of self-congratulatory display.

Still, regardless of pomp or intention, LeBron James (as well as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, for that matter) engaged in what would under normal circumstances be considered an act of athletic heroism: sacrifice.

I’m not saying any of the three should be pitied, but each player chose to give up their touches, give up money, slash their chances to win individual awards, and in the eyes of some, compromise their own legacies in the sake of something greater. Individual sacrifice for the sake of winning a championship is supposed to translate as nobility for professional athletes, and yet for these three (but LeBron, first and foremost) it’s been discussed as a sign of weakness.

There should be separate reactions to each component of LeBron’s summer, yet rather than treat both LeBron’s decision and his Decision as separate entities, plenty of basketball fans and scribes alike have thrown all of their feelings concerning all things LeBron into a blender. He’s a fool. An egoist. And apparently, as much a sinner in the basketball world as he is in the public relations one. It’s all very jumbled, even if it shouldn’t be.

What is it that makes the pieces of the LeBron narrative so difficult to extricate from one another? I’m not exactly sure, and judging by Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem’s response during an interview with the Joe Rose Show on WQAM in Miami (via Sports Radio Interviews), I’m not sure he is either:

“It’s unfortunate because in today’s society athletes get criticized for being so selfish and wanting all the money and going to a bad team just to take more money and things like that. Here you have the exact opposite where you have guys sacrifice money to go to a good team and put something together where they can win multiple championships for years to come and people still complain. For me I guess you just can’t make people happy so you have to make yourself happy.”

Naturally, the actions of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were self-motivated. They chose to, as Haslem noted, do what made them happy. That, in itself, doesn’t make them “selfish,” or deserving of ire. It also doesn’t mean that those three players made a poor decision this summer by opting to compete with rather than against each other. It just means that all three are apparently in tune with the exact thing sports fans demand that they value. All three may be showered in glitz along the way, but they’re still united with basketball success in mind.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike LeBron James or the Miami Heat, but the circumstances that brought the two together aren’t a valid excuse to do either.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine slam dunks the ball during the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect. Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates:

Splash Brothers showtime: Klay Thompson beats Stephen Curry to win Three-Point Contest

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TORONTO — It came down to the Splash Brothers. Because of course it did. Just like last season.

In the final round of the NBA All-Star Saturday Three-Point Shootout, defending champ Stephen Curry hit his first eight shots and set the bar high with 23 points — the best score of the night.

His backcourt teammate Klay Thompson responded by draining his last seven shots, which included the entire money rack, and put up 27 points — tying the event record.

That gave Thompson the upset win and the Three-Point Contest title.

Although, is it an upset if the second best shooter in the game beats the best?

“It was like déjà vu last year,” Thompson said. “Not gonna lie, I got nervous when he hit his first eight, and I didn’t think he was going to miss. But it was exciting, just coming back to Oakland [with the title], you know. Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool.”

So does Thompson have bragging rights?

“(For) about 364 days, and then — but that’s a daily thing we do,” Thompson said. “We love to shoot against each other. You know, I’ve never been on a team with someone who shoots it better than me, so it’s a privilege to work with him every day. He makes me that much better.”

The Final round was two you expected — the Splash Brothers — plus one few did, Suns rookie Devin Booker.

Getting there was not simple. In the first round, Thompson set a high bar going first and putting up 22. Curry got hot in the middle, then hit the last two money balls to reach 21. James Harden and J.J. Redick ( who stayed behind the line this year) scored very solid 20s. Later 19-year-old rookie Booker put up a 20 to tie those two veterans. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (13 points) Portland’s C.J. McCollum (14) and home-town crowd favorite Raptor Kyle Lowry (15) got bounced. .

That left Harden, Redick, and McCollum in a tiebreaker, and the rookie calmly put up a 12 in 30 seconds to advance.

Booker took a step back in the final round with a 16.

Not that it mattered with the Splash Brothers in the building.