Dusting Off the Flying Death Machine: Remembering Prime #HeatTwitter

Commentary6 years ago7 min readRob Slater

No one was safe.

Not Beadle. Not Bayless. Not Wilbon. Not that guy on the NFL Redzone Channel. No one.

The hate that descended on Biscayne Boulevard from the rest of the sports-loving world when LeBron James uttered those now infamous words in front of Jim Gray will be forever understated and never forgotten by those who faced it head-on.

No incident was too small to warrant a BREAKING NEWS banner on Sportscenter (a TV show no HEAT fan willingly watched between 2010 and 2014). Remember 9-8? Bumpgate? Crying in the locker room? Mo Williams and his man hug jokes?

It was open season on the HEAT and their fans in 2010, and out of it rose an impenetrable force. A rowdy gang from all corners of the country, living in the isolated, scrutinized world of HEAT fandom suddenly thrust into the center of the basketball universe. #HEATTwitter was born.

If the 2006 HEAT team motto was “Fifteen Strong,” Big 3-era #HEATTwitter could probably claim “Fifty Strong.” Possibly more. It was truly strength in numbers to combat the rationally bankrupt sports media that chose to analyze swiftly and emotionally, ditching logic and numbers for one-liners and the true, original hot takes. But that was just the beginning.

Soon, the HEAT would become bejeweled. NBA royalty as the 2012 NBA Champions, a ring that should’ve come with a diamond encrusted middle finger planted firmly where the Larry O’Brien trophy traditionally sits. Many #HEATTwitter members suggested LeBron have a ring especially fit for another part of him, one that also lent to a colorful nickname that stretched throughout his tenure in Miami.

Once the angst of winning a title was in the rearview mirror, it was time for the victory lap. If #HEATTwitter were a person in the summer of 2012, they’d be a double middle finger-wielding version of Kenny Powers, eviscerating anything and anyone in their path. See, attacking the Miami HEAT on Twitter didn’t just open you up to the sophomoric insults we see on the internet today, it opened you up to the locusts. A relentless, debilitating flood of GIFs, memes, urges to find and contact your father for parental guidance and anything else that could be dug up on you.

One of the cornerstones of the entire movement turned out to be the LelBron, an impossibly cartoonish photo of James from 2012 that served as the source of countless photoshops, particularly used to antagonize some of the HEAT’s biggest critics and opponents. The Lelbron was just one of the unlimited weapons in the #HEATTwitter arsenal, proving its versatility on a daily basis.

If the first championship season proved to be sweet vindication, the second title run was an embarrassment of riches and, as it turned out, Twitter debauchery. On their way to a 66-win regular season, the HEAT pulverized the rest of the NBA. There was, of course, the historic 27-game winning streak, huge comebacks (particularly on the road in Cleveland) and a team that routinely answered every misguided, forced attempt to knock them off (Barkley’s “jump shooting teams don’t win titles” narrative was born with the HEAT).

The 2013 season was cloaked in intoxicating invincibility. The jokes and vitriol thrown at Miami-Dade County after the Mavericks series was being returned in the most violent and unrelenting of ways. The tweets went from funny to devastatingly hilarious, raunchy and most definitely over the line. Nothing was off limits. And no one was safe. This was the crowning moment for #HEATTwitter, the year it grew its sharpest of teeth and bit back at a mass media that spent every waking second wishing for their demise.

There would be no demise. 2013 was bound for glory, even when things seemed at their most dire in the Finals. If the knife was already in the HEAT’s detractors, with one shot, Ray Allen twisted it in a little deeper. A historic season poised to come crashing down suddenly breathed new life with a Game 6 win and then a Game 7 coronation to win one of the greatest Finals series ever played. Back to back titles. Infinite ammo for a now-immortal fanbase.

Many teams and their fans tout the “Us Against the World” cliche.  For some reason, even Cleveland routinely sells “Cleveland Vs. Everybody” t-shirts. Rarely is it ever true.

The Big Three-era Miami HEAT were hated. The players, coaches, management, fans and residents of the city were all despised, shoved into a judgmental box together for the world to stare at and poke continuously to their delight. Much could be written about why, but we’re just here today to talk about the Twitter reaction to such a thing. #HEATTwitter was a direct reaction from all of that. This was us against the entire world.

In a time where fans are more likely to glob onto a certain player, this was a large group of passionate, true fans rallying around a team for the most scrutinized run we have ever seen in professional sports. It was first met with anger, then humor, then downright, earned smugness.

Nowadays, #HEATTwitter’s fangs are a lot less visible as the team works towards the next era of greatness. Many outside of Miami seem to be relishing the HEAT’s current downward slide.

What is it that they say about making the same mistake twice?