MIAMI — Fist fights during professional basketball games are rare, but when they occur they can be quite violent. They happen without football or hockey’s uniform armor, or baseball’s custom of harmless pileups, or the polystyrene cushion and Kevlar shell of NASCAR helmets that make futile folly out of pit-lane punches. Basketball fighters are denied even the negligible grace of foam-filled boxing gloves on the fists launched at their face. Basket-brawlers ante legitimate downside exposure when they fight.
Of course, in basketball altercations, as in every sport, and really most such encounters among humans and animals alike, a typical tussle is usually just a sequence of bluffs, a vocal and body-language signaling ritual to safely, if loudly, determine who asserted and who yielded. We must hope that the fights the Miami Heat are bound to get into this year are of this nature, or at least mostly so, and that no one is seriously hurt… or long-term suspended.
Negative vibes manifest into tangible action all the time in this sensitive, sentient universe of ours. Energy matters, and for three months and counting a heap of heavy energy, mostly negative, has befallen the Miami Heat. As we move from off-season to preseason to real games, there is no respite from the whining and opining. The events of the summer created an irresistible platform for commentary.
Training camp practices at Eglin Air Force Base drew daily SportsCenter coverage and analysis, for example. ??Everyone seems to have an interest in, and moral judgment of, this team, and a keen need to share it (from amateurs like me, to ex-jock media guys who harshly criticize the whole concept of this Heat super-team despite themselves having joined a super-team in Houston not so long ago). For most people without a 305 prefix to their phone number, from Charles Barkley to anonymous message-board characters, the interest is in willing them to fail, and the moral judgment is indignant condemnation. Does this automatically mean that there will be violence on the court during Heat games? Of course not. However, there will be over/under 3.5 altercations involving the Heat this year, for four reasons:
1. Negative energy on a mass-scale often becomes substantive trouble, as we learned, of course, in Ghostbusters II. Each Heat visit to another arena will be a sold-out, emotionally supercharged event. The term “powder keg,” once used to describe Europe before the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, applies here nicely. Slights, scrapes, and bumps will all be amplified in such environments.
2. Somewhere on this season’s journey there is going to be a guy whose team is down 35 in the 3rd quarter. An alley-oop dunk will spike off his head, and he will to resolve to make a statement. It might be a high elbow or a shove under the basket. That alone could ignite it, but the Ghostbusters II corollary will increase the odds if it happens on the road.
3. Though the deployment of goons is not prevalent in basketball, it is plausible that a frustrated, out-of-ideas coach could resort to using an end-bench player as an instrument of persistent, baiting harassment – especially in a playoff series.
4. As critics have noted, the Heat could have internal strife as its leadership dynamic takes shape. Any underlying, simmering hostility could become another teams’ problem in a sudden, violent combustion.
Assuming and hoping that there is health and peace, the other major non-basketball obstacle for the Heat is something that is usually a benefit: the South Beach effect. What Miami as a city lacks in fan fortitude and unconditional enthusiasm, it makes up for in nightclub bottle service and fire-hot women. On the night before the games, our elite force of tanned, fit, provocative women can do more to derail opponents than nine assistant coaches accomplish in a week of practices. God bless them one and all; we love them and are grateful. But there is the danger that the home team can fall victim to the same snare. After all Lebron James just served a seven year stretch in Cleveland. Cleveland!!
Wins will come, because the talent is overwhelming. 69 regular season wins and 13 defeats is the guess, with a 20 game winning streak at some point. In a surprise, the Celtics will be the first playoff opponent, but will be unable to suddenly coalesce as they did last year, and the former champs will go down after five tough games. Orlando will then pay for their constant Heat chatter; Orlando gets swept and endures another summer of envious psychosis. The Bulls are the next best team in the East after the Heat, and they will present a formidable challenge. Home court advantage will be the difference as Miami wins in 7. Everyone then expects that Los Angeles will be the Finals foe, but the Lakers will have their own game 7 to traverse against Kevin Durant and the Thunder.
The historic pattern indicates that OKC is destined to lose to L.A. one more time before finally breaking through, so we’ll go with that for now, but a Durant/Westbrook/Green tilt versus Wade/James/Bosh will happen eventually, and quite possibly this spring, and probably more than once thereafter. ??As for what happens then, the team with the single best player usually wins a series. Kobe, Lebron, Durant or Wade will win the MVP this year. So the Heat’s chances of having that player and therefore hosting a championship parade next summer, is 50-50.