LeBron, Team Petty & The Validation of Victory

Commentary6 years ago8 min readGiancarlo Navas

What was gained on Saturday went beyond the tangible. It went beyond the needed win after a puzzling collapse to Charlotte and it went beyond a win against a chief conference rival. What Miami gained from their public dismantling of Cleveland was a validation that is best understood through the story of the #TeamPetty and the community built by Heat Twitter.

The #TeamPetty movement is rooted in the confusion as to why LeBron would leave Miami for Cleveland. It’s a simple concept and the name is self-explanatory. Miami understands that LeBron has a right to leave and understands it’s petty to get mad, but does it with self-awareness. They are hurt and they want to be heard.

These feelings might not make sense to many of you. Why does Miami feel so hurt by this? For this all to make sense you need to understand LeBron’s history with Miami and the sports pain that goes along with it.

It started as a dream, to get one of the best players ever to play alongside another generationally great player. It then morphed into a nightmare, as a 9-8 start gave fuel to America’s laughter, doubt and hatred. Reality then hit, as Miami went on a run following that 9-8 start that yielded two titles, four consecutive finals appearances, and a 27 game win streak.

Through all the hardship and successes an “us against the world” mentality was born. As Miami won games hatred began to fester. Heat Twitter made enemies of Brian Windhorst, Michael Wilbon, and the national media as the community around the Heat insulated themselves from all the noise.

They built an internet community known as Heat Twitter through ways of finding solace in each other. Heat Twitter was at war with the basketball world because they would defend what that team represented tooth and nail. The team embodied Miami in a way that only Miami could be represented.

It was flashy, it was gluttonous and it was a party. It was Miami. They appealed to the ADD mentality of quick stimulation found everywhere in this city. They played fast, with full court passes, alley oops, steals and lots of 3’s. They overwhelmed opponents with athleticism and finesse and dammit was it fun.

It brought a community together in a way that I didn’t think possible in South Florida. The anecdote I will never forget is during my younger sister’s graduation which fell on the afternoon of game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals versus the Pacers. The phrase that opened the graduation was not “welcome students” or “congratulations for making it”, it was “we will finish this fast so we can all see the game.” What followed was a standing ovation louder than anything that followed all afternoon. The old Hispanic couple behind me stood and cheered, the students who were about to graduate cheered, the small children got up and cheered. A community was invested in this team filled with strangers.

Each series was not just a contest of athletics but a defense of culture and lifestyle. Miami’s main opponents during that era were Boston and Indiana, “blue collar” cities. The bright lights and ocean breeze of Miami versus the dark and hardworking cities of America. The subtle but brilliant juxtaposition of the teams is in part what helped further the “us against the world” mentality. People on Heat Twitter trashing the cities of Cleveland, Indiana or Boston was common practice as it became reflexive. Adding this culture war.

So when Miami looked at the coverage what they saw was jarring to them. Any bit of adversity was met with absurdity. Who could forget such gems as Jason Whitlock saying “ Bosh a homeless man’s Dirk Nowitzki, a perimeter big man who put up inflated scoring and rebounding numbers because when visiting NBA players cross the Canadian border they put far more effort into acquiring condoms, loonies and a strip-club champagne room than their on-court assignments?”

As the nation continued their media scorching of the Heat, Miami remained insulated. They defended their team and their newly adopted superstar against everyone. Opposing fanbases, national media, twitter mobs. Miami defended the championship pre-party at the American Airlines Arena, they defended their late arriving fanbase and they defended their sports culture. Miami even defended LeBron refusing to post up JJ Barea. They did so for four years.

With the exceptional media work being done by Dan LeBatard, Tom Haberstroh, and Ethan Skolnick, Miami fans started learning basketball at a whole new depth. Now TS%, pace, spacing, small ball and positionless basketball all made sense to them. By watching those Heat teams grow, Miami basketball fans became informed. They learned to understand the value of a power forward running a pick and roll with a guard as the screener, they started to understand how counting stats were silly and FG% was something to look at. Few buildings appreciate a charge call like the American Airlines Arena does.

The fanbase grew along with the team, leaving behind old basketball wisdom in favor of the next evolution of the sport. It was a simultaneous growth. Miami saw LeBron blossom into a champion and a man. Expanding his business further and seeing him reach the pinnacle of his professional. A lot of South Florida grew up with that.

So where we end up is what felt like a betrayal. In a Judas moment, LeBron went back to Cleveland and stabbed Miami right in the heart. He left them with nothing, just a depleted roster and a sense of defeat. It became apparent that LeBron took the hopes of a championship to Cleveland and left Miami with a decomposing Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on a max contract.

Apr 6, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) prior to tip off against the New York Knicks at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

He left a team that he succeeded with for what Miami feels was nothing more than a public relations move and a power play. For LeBron to flip the narrative of hatred for him and so that he may have free reign in a place that was desperate for his return.

It felt underhanded and it sure as hell hurt the people in Miami. All the growing they did side-by-side, all the struggles and highs they lived through together, seemed to not matter. So what gets created is a feeling of betrayal which breeds this petty nature to always take shots at LeBron whenever possible.

He loses in the Finals? Miami will make sure to laugh the loudest. Why? Because everyone did to us when the Heat lost to Dallas. Problems in the locker room with Kevin Love? Miami laughs the loudest, because that what the nation did to them when Chris Bosh was allegedly crying the locker room following a loss. David Blatt gets fired? Miami laughs. Because as the hysteria of the 9-8 start happened and everyone in the media though Spoelstra should be fired. Miami stood pat and kept Spo.

Through all of that Miami stood alone. An insulated fan base and an insulated locker room. So now that Cleveland goes through a lot of the same things, Miami feels vindicated. Miami’s petty jokes are the loudest, also the funniest. Because it comes from a place of sports pain and betrayal.

So the destruction of Cleveland last Saturday provided Miami with validation. It was a symbol of their team’s will and of LeBron’s decision. He has not beaten the Heat in Miami since he has left and in two of the games, Miami had giant leads.

This victory, however, felt more of a threat than any of the others. As there is a feeling that a playoff matchup between the two teams is inevitable. This victory gave Miami the confidence to go to war once again with the nation. They feel they can beat Cleveland. In the locker room and in the stands. A validation to a fan base that could only be obtained by winning the way they did on Saturday.

LeBron left for a younger team and Miami’s younger players were the stars. Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside were destructive to Cleveland and built the lead that they would fail to overcome.

Team petty feels emboldened, their pain was validated through the spoils of victory. A feeling unique to Miami and one that might not make sense to anyone outside of the city.