There are basically three buckets of people in terms of reactions to how the NBA playoffs played out…
1) You rooted for the Heat because a) they are your team and you are a longtime Heat fan b) LeBron is your favorite player c) the Spurs somewhere along the line did you dirty and you'll root for anyone but them d) you are Justin Bieber.
2) You follow the NBA pretty closely and rooted for the Spurs and while they lost, you enjoyed the good basketball, especially Games 6 and 7.
3) You casually follow the NBA and while you didn't really want to consume a lot of playoff basketball, when the Heat got in trouble you got excited and you watched on the edge of your seat trying to will the Pacers and Spurs to beat them. You feel terrible now not only because the Heat won, but that you cared, and that you invested time and emotion into something you're just not that into. Would you have really watched so intensely or rooted so hard if it was the Pacers vs. Spurs?
I am in bucket number three and I suspect many of you are as well as you're all over my Twitter and Facebook feeds. While I wish had a lot of that time back, I must admit it was a lot of fun. Just a delicious recipe of precision snark, ripe schadenfreuden, silly GIFs, hit and miss ESPN bashing, referee hating, and oh yeah the basketball was good too. I also can now name up to 10 players on the Heat, Spurs, and Pacers compared to my normal 3-5 guys per team.
The funny thing is that you wouldn't think hate would be a positive element to a sport's health. But historically though, that's what gets people excited. In terms of getting people to care, to watch, and to discuss, hate is very underrated narrative in the sports world. And last night there were scores of people, many concentrated in Cleveland, that watched last night for the sole purpose of rooting against the Heat.
Miami in the 80's, the Cowboys in the 90's, NWO in the early 2000's, and the Yankees the last 20 years. I'd even say politics thrive on this as how many people actually go around saying "My party of choice is AWESOME!" That's not how it is – all of your FB/Twitter updates are aimed at the party, team, player you loathe.
A lot of teams come close to being a heel but often fall short. I would say Duke and Kentucky toe the line in basketball and Alabama is certainly on the brink in football. The Avalanche and the Red Wings gave hockey a nice boost, but it was hard for fans to really distinguish who was Satan in skates and who was the white knight.
For a lot of great heels, a protagonist emerges but then that's where things get tricky. The Red Sox while initially embraced by many sports fans suddenly themselves became the embodiment of all the reasons they hated in the Yankees.
The hatred comes and goes, but when it's there, it's lightning in a bottle. Right now with a second championship, the stench of The Decision still lingering, as well as the fact that Miami sports fans don't exactly have much street cred, the Heat are a perfect heel and maybe that's a good thing.
With a flat salary cap and whole hell of a lot of parity, will the NFL see another superpower rise and will they have the bravado and personality to unite neutral fans into hating them? You can't even do a touchdown dance with your teammates, taunt an opponent, or really speak your mind without the NFL clamping down on you. Of all the teams I hate the most in the NFL, it's mostly the losing teams that piss me off the most from seeing them stink it up on national television.
A heel needs to be a champion, a perennial favorite, and probably requires ESPN's promotional machine as the greatest thing ever to really ascend to that role.
MLB has some legacy heels and some brewing on the west coast. The Dodgers and Angels spending gets them on the radar, but their records and young talent cancel out any threat there. I'd love for people to start hating the Giants but there isn't even really a hint of that after 2 World Series victories and ownership trying to passive aggressively exile the A's from the Bay Area. (Hate them? Anyone? Who's coming with me?)
As noted before, the college game gives us some possibilities but at the end of the day it's not exactly easy to really really hate young, overworked, and under compensated college students. You have to hate the coach first, then the fans, and while at times that is easy, it's hard to sustain over time.
We all have our personal beefs and having fellow local fans join in on that is a good time but in the end, the Heat might just be one of the last true heels in existence to root against together.
I would have loved for the Heat to lose and many of you would too, but a year from now, would you prefer a quiet Warriors vs. Pacers final or perhaps another 7 game series pitting someone against those brats from South Beach? It would be appealing to have them eliminated early in the playoffs, part of you knows you'll miss the experience of rooting against them on the big stage and all of the fun that hating something with passion with friends and strangers alike brings to the table.
With that in mind, I'll see many of you a year from now and until then, embrace the hate. It's what gets the blood moving and brings us together and while that's somewhat sad, it's long been a staple of the sports world.