As the Bulls and Heat take the court tonight to begin their battle for the right to represent their conference in the NBA Finals, the Heat carry with them the burden of the hopes of an entire sports town. Sports town; not a term usually associated with Miami, as the Magic City carries with it the stigma of being a weak sports town, full of bandwagoners and tardy arrivals (in Miami, we call it Cuban Time). But believe me, this is a sports town with a pulse.
So why are the fans here fair-weather? simply put, this is a fair-weather town. In a city where the temperature barely drops below 70 degrees, even in the dead of winter, the options for recreational activities remains broad year-round. Whereas in the north people escape to the theatre and to arenas to escape the bitter cold and take in some entertainment, in Miami, the beach is still a viable option in January. so while a 1pm Heat crowd on a Sunday afternoon seems sparse, it's just the simple truth that you can be in the arena just as be out on a jetski. There is just simply too much to do. Trust me, I also shook my head as I would see empty seats throughout the arena of a team that just pulled the biggest coup possibly in all of sports history (save Babe Ruth) by signing the two-time MVP Lebron James. This is not an indictment against Chicago or some claim that Miami is a better city. It's not. But while Chicago has had the Cubs and White Sox and Bears to pull for and go see for over 100 years, Miami has just had beaches that whole time.
This is where the Heat come to the rescue. Miami has been and always will be a football town first. The Dolphins reign supreme, as they should being the only consistent winner down here, and the Miami Hurricanes act as a second pro football team down here and get the same coverage. But there is a shifting of the tide. The Dolphins remain cemented in mediocrity. for the better part of a decade now. The Marlins, while having provided two Wolrd Series championships, also have jaded their fan base through multiple ownership changes and firesales in their nearly 20 year existence.
Enter Lebron James, and with him, the hopes of a true contender for years to come. As Lebron-fever has caught on over the course of the last year, you can't help but notice in the streets and radiowaves of our little paradise the attention shift. No longer are people uber-concerned with the Dolphins 20th-round pick. The lockout doesn't help either. Sure, the Marlins have one of the budding young sluggers in the MLB in Mike Stanton, and granted they are playing well which'll keep some attention on them. Neither of these stories compares to a possible dynasty blooming in Miami.
The Marino jerseys walking around are fewer and fewer. A Marlins hat? Please. Miami is becoming a basketball town right before our eyes. The youngsters all follow the Heat. All those football fans are talking Heat basketball, and the fever has wrestled the Dolphins' (and Canes') grip on this town. Sure, when football comes around we'll go and cheer, but that franchise is currently not giving much hope for it's future to it's fans. Now, it's who can beat the Heat? How can this team improve in the offseason to become even more potent? Heat caps and jerseys are donned wherever you look and finally an entire generation of Miamians have something to truly root for and believe in.
You might not agree with this premise as we all know Wrigley sells out win or lose, but Miami is just not built that way. You might not agree but it doesn't make Miami any less of a sports town. We just wait for the big wave and ride it. Well, while the Marlins might've provided that for a year or so at a time, and the Dolphins haven't given that kind of hope since #13 was taking snaps, the Heat now have a firm grasp on a fanbase that knows there will be possible championships to root for in the forseeable future. This town's second best athlete ever (Wade) and the sport's possibly biggest talent ever (Lebron) have come in, set up shop, and people are buying.
The transformation has taken place. Even the casual fan now all of a sudden has something to truly invest in. The Dolphins would have to win a super bowl to gain back this city. In all the offices and schools, young or old, everyone is cheering in one voice: LET'S GO HEAT!!! So while the Marlins wait for a new stadium to open next year to rejuvenate a fanbase and the Dolphins search for the next great QB, the Heat are contenders now, and Miami is a basketball town now. In a sense, it's a child coming of age. From the casual fan to the die-hards, everyone everywhere wants to talk Heat, and Miami is not just a better sports town for it, but a better city overall.
As far as this Bulls fan is concerned, a series win would make me happier than just about anything else. But if the Heat win, it'll still be great to be living in happy city. A rare win-win in sports.