I know that the past month has sucked. We've watched some of our greatest enemies battle it out on the highest possible stage, while the Thunder sat home, seething. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. This was supposed to be OUR YEAR. Being let down so anti-climatically was depressing, to say the least.
The worst part about it is how helpless we feel. Obviously, as fans, we have no direct effect on the game. But beyond that, it felt like the Thunder were forgotten about in this year's playoffs. They were creamed by a Grizzlies team that played well beyond their means, and didn't even get a second shot at the Heat. We had to watch LeBron hoist a trophy for the second time, while Kevin Durant commercials simply refused to leave the air, seemingly ignorant of the fact that the Thunder had been buried long ago.
But, in all honesty, I was kinda....sorta....hoping for this result.
You see, the Thunder are now the NBA's last hope. The Heat are solidly established as two-time champions, and nobody can take that away from them. But only four other teams have ever accomplished an NBA Three-peat: Mikan's Lakers, Shaq's Lakers, Jordan's Bulls (2x), and Russell's Celtics. The Heat could be, literally, less than a year away from joining that list of teams.
Nobody wants that to happen. We all have our reasons for hating the Heat, some petty, some legitimate. But I'd like to tell you my own personal story.
When I was in Miami covering the Finals a year ago, I was going through some tough personal times. I felt taken advantage of, and I wasn't sure what direction to take my life. In some ways, covering the Thunder is what kept me going.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to whine about my life. My problems are nothing compared to what some of you have gone through, and I totally understand that. But, all of that aside, my memories of that place are like some sort of nightmare. The city was nice enough, but there was absolutely no pride in the team. You'd be hard pressed to find somebody in a Heat jersey around town. Inside the arena, the display of support for their Championship-caliber squad was even more lackluster. Most of the volume was piped in, and everybody acted like they were too cool to cheer. When the Heat had won the title, the level of noise was lower than the Peake when the Thunder blow out the Bobcats.
But what stuck with me the most were my memories of the players. As I finished up a few interviews with sullen Thunder players in the locker room, I went over to the interview room, where LeBron James was talking. Most of what he said is a blur, but his parting words were....
"All I know is that I'm a champion. And that's all that matters."
For some reason, I have this mental image of him picking up the Finals MVP trophy and the Championship trophy and walking out of the room. Whether that actually happened is anybody's guess, because I was pretty much out of my mind. After that, I exited the interview room and saw Dwayne Wade walking down the arena concourse, with an entourage of press. It was almost surreal, like a scene from a movie where the main character dreams of becoming a star. As he spread his arms wide, he bellowed out appropriate words.
"We did it baby! We did it!"
Wade quickly disappeared down the hall. I made my way to the Heat locker room, which was basically functioning as a temporary club. As I remember it, the floor was doused in at least two inches of champagne and the air was thick with cigar smoke, though my memory probably fails me. Several everlasting images struck me there. Chris Bosh was wondering around with Heat branded sunglasses on, engaged in some sort of trance. Juwan Howard was crying in the center of the locker room, talking to reporters. Eddy Curry was standing on a bench, dressed in a suit, holding women on either side of him. A group of rich people who didn't look like they belonged there were helping themselves to some championship Bud Light. At this point, one of them may or may not have found a championship ring on the floor, which was quickly seized by Heat officials. But, again, I don't trust my memory. I was basically in a Chris Bosh-like state.
As I left the arena, there was no celebratory crowd outside. In fact, I barely saw any activity at all. There was a small set of fireworks on one street, and a van driving around with people banging pots and pans. I walked the long walk back to my hotel, and then proceeded to digest 7 Mountain Dews and 40 dollars worth of Taco Bell, which is easily the most I've ever consumed in one sitting. I later found out that I might have gone to the same Taco Bell as Chris Bosh. Go figure.
I don't really know what the whole point of that story was. All you can really get out of it is that Heat fans are really passive, the Heat players are human beings, and that I really like Taco Bell. There's no real reason for me, or anybody, to hate the Heat. And in all reality, I don't really hate the Heat, or their fans.
But as my overwhelmingly biased memory chooses to remember that week spent in Miami, I can't help but remember the images. LeBron with the trophies. Wade with the entourage. Bosh losing his mind. Juwan Howard and Eddy Curry tagging along. The underwhelming fans. The horrible trip to the bathroom after all of that Taco Bell.
And when I look back on those images as a whole, it just seemed like something that wasn't supposed to happen. A whole world celebrating, while I had a creeping feeling of sadness. The Heat are the villains. The team put together because some superstars liked to pal around on Team USA. The team that attracts old talent to sign for cheap because of the promise of a ring. The team that has so little hometown support. The team that all the bandwagon fans choose to like. But, most of all, they're the team that crushed the Thunder's NBA Championship dreams, and for that they must pay.
Sure, there are other teams looking for an NBA ring next season. Fortunately, we know that all of them are irrelevant. Because the Thunder have the talent and the tools to dethrone the champs in an epic NBA Finals. And that they WILL claim the championship, no matter what stands in their way.
The quest to dethrone the Heat starts now.
We'll have complete coverage of the Thunder's quest over this Summer! Stay tuned to WTLC for news and analysis from the Draft, Free Agency, the Summer League, the Eurobasket, and Pre-Season!