It took a while, but the Miami Heat are starting to look like real championship contenders. After a 9-8 start, they have won 10 in a row as of Friday morning. The team’s defense has been dominant, making them second in the league for fewest points allowed per 100 possessions; and their offense, even minus two key role players, has been strong, averaging the fifth most points per 100 possessions. At least for now, they have silenced the doubters who thought that the off-season free-agent coup of landing both LeBron James and Chris Bosh was just bling.
The thinking was that a group of superstars — even such a prodigious group as James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade, three of the game’s top eight players — would never triumph long term against a group of teams, units that had been through the fire, bonded through long seasons of rigorous tests and proven to be far more than the sum of their parts. It might be fun to root against them, especially after James’ ridiculous infomercial this summer, during which he announced his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami, but the Heat’s winning season is good for the NBA’s current narrative.
Many eras have had a defining narrative. In the ’60s it was a great team, the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics, over great players — Wilt Chamberlain or the duo of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. In the ’80s it was the charisma and finesse of Magic Johnson’s Showtime L.A. Lakers versus the workman-like grit of the Larry Bird-led Celtics. The ’90s were about how one great player, Michael Jordan, could be part of a great team, the six-time champion Chicago Bulls.
The current NBA narrative is that the players aren’t all selfish, overprivileged thugs. This was never the case, but the stereotype took over in 2004. That year the U.S. National Team struggled mightily in the Athens Olympics. Despite winning the bronze medal, the team was beaten repeatedly by lesser, but more cohesive, squads. Then, a few months later, a brawl known as the Malice at the Palace occurred in Auburn Hills, Mich., where Indiana Pacers players entered the stands and fought with Detroit Pistons fans.