Oklahoma City has all of a sudden become America’s team. The conventional wisdom out there is that they built their championship-caliber team the right way, while the Heat took rapid shortcuts. The Thunder is good because they built their team through the draft and complimented their stars by adding smart free-agent role players.
They are also believed to be the more humble team because Thunder star Kevin Durant announced his contract extension with OKC on Twitter. KD is known as the anti-LeBron James because he doesn’t care about promoting himself through the media.
In the summer of 2010, you witnessed the Decision on ESPN and the WrestleMania-type celebration afterwards. The Heat looked like a team that was making a valiant effort to be Hollywood as hell while the Thunder front office sat there behind the scenes and quietly put together a formidable team for the ages.
So because of this, the Heat has been vilified because they supposedly “copped out.” The common sentiment out there is that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were unwilling to do it by themselves any longer. Of course it’s easy to ignore the fact that Magic, Jordan and Bird all had excellent supporting cast players around them.
To make my case, consider this. Jordan had Pippen, Magic had Kareem and Worthy, and Bird had McHale and Parrish. So it’s pretty silly when the likes of Jordan, Bird and Magic act like they did it all alone without any significant help.
On another note, whatever you do, please don’t act like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan would not have all considered joining forces if they had the opportunity to. I thought our culture admired professional athletes who do whatever it takes to win? We hate athletes who put other things outside of winning as the top priority. This is where the double standard kicks in.
Which philosophy for building a team is better?
So to say that the Heat is evil and the Thunder is good should be considered as extremely simplistic, misleading and disingenuous.
The fact is, there is nothing wrong with how the Miami Heat constructed their team. As a fan, you are just looking at two different models on how to build a championship team. A championship-caliber team can be built either through drafting and player development or through free agency and trades. Most small market teams really have to rely on the drafting and player development method in order to give loyal fans a viable product.
But the Heat went out and did it a completely different way. Why did they do it the way they did? The reason is because they were able to. The NBA’s salary cap structure allowed the Heat to add three max salary contracts. That is why more fans and media pundits should acknowledge that what the Heat did was both extremely smart and cunning.
The Heat did not put this super team together overnight. It's not like Heat President Pat Riley just woke up one morning and decided that he wanted LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade in South Beach. The Heat’s advance preparation was absolutely incredible. They spent three years clearing cap space for the summer of 2010. It was a major risk because the Heat really had to gut their entire roster.
The bottom-line is three superstar caliber players took less money in order to pursue championships. Pat Riley’s job was very difficult because he had to convince them that this was the right thing to do. I would think both the fans and media would greatly admire the kind of financial sacrifice the Big Three made in the name of winning.
With that being said, you can argue that Florida has no state income tax. You can also argue the fact that LeBron and D-Wade were already making mega dollars in endorsement deals. However, they easily could have enriched themselves even more.
So at the end of the day, don’t fall for the good vs. evil storyline. As compelling as it is, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is so much more complicated than that. Why can’t you just have mutual respect for what both teams are trying to accomplish? I believe that is the right approach to take when evaluating the journey both teams took to reach this point.