As the 2012 ESPY awards came to a close Wednesday night, something felt wrong.
No, it wasn't San Francisco Giants' closer Brian Wilson, who sported a skin-tight suit with a seven-foot Sasquatch on his arm. It wasn't some maddening Berman-ism or another roisterous debate between Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith—both staples of ESPN programing.
It was the night's final award—slated for the best team in sports for 2011-12—that was unsettling. Professional basketball's Miami Heat took home the hardware amid a flurry of more qualified suitors.
Granted, it's hard to stay truly upset in the jovial atmosphere of the ESPYs—a red carpet celebration for all things bat and ball; and with every nominee being a champion of a different sport, the trophy couldn't stumble into terribly undeserving hands. However, Miami's award certainly says something about the sports culture we continue to develop.
Chosen by popular vote, the Heat surpassed the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats basketball team, who set an NCAA Division I record with 38 wins en route to a national championship. The Heat surpassed the 2011-12 Alabama Crimson Tide, who in the BCS title game knocked off SEC rival Louisiana State in blistering 21-0 fashion. The Heat even surpassed the 2011-12 Baylor Lady Bears, who finished atop women's college basketball a perfect 40-0.
Miami's win celebrates the culture's love for universal superstardom. Athletes are increasingly commodified, and the radiance of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade trumps that of any Cardinal, Giant, Wildcat or Los Angeles King.
The Miami Heat's victory also reflects a sense of impatience in the sports-watching community—a frustrating short-term memory that lingers throughout every sports bar and every professional arena.
Did the Heat claim the award because they were sports' most recent champions? Perhaps improbable title bearers like the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals faded from discussion, with their glory moments coming in February and October of 2011, respectively.
Last year, the Dallas Mavericks were crowned as the ESPY's best team, shortly after stunning Miami in the 2011 NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant and the world champion Los Angeles Lakers snagged the award at the 2009 ESPYs. 2008's best team? The Boston Celtics.
Were the ESPYs not held a few weeks after professional basketball drops its confetti and calls it a year, we'd likely see a different winner.
The Lady Bears are the most compelling argument for an alternate winner. Baylor began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, and didn't disappoint. Despite skirting the sporting world's spotlight this spring, Brittney Griner and company made history in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
With an astounding average win margin of 20.5 points, the Lady Bears were unstoppable; and if the "best team" is interpreted as the most physically imposing and overall dominant squad, it's hard to argue against Baylor.
Kentucky was also more than deserving of the award. The 'Cats entered the preseason polls with a No. 2 ranking, and surrendered just two loses all season. The Wildcats spawned a bevy of first-round picks in June's NBA draft, and won each tournament game by at least eight points.
So, if the "best team" is meant to be the most consistent winner—the despots of court and field—Miami is deemed undeserving. The Heat's .697 winning percentage was only good for fourth best in professional basketball; and unlike the NCAA's elites, the NBA champs were forced to the precipice of elimination multiple times—facing the Indiana Pacers for six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and clashing with the Boston Celtics for a full seven in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It's in the Cards
Maybe the ESPYs' "best team" should be a franchise that defied all odds—a "Cinderella story" with no shortage of fascinating storylines and feel-good moments.
Baseball's defending champs, the St. Louis Cardinals, certainly fit the bill. At the tail-end of August, the Atlanta Braves held a 10.5 game lead over Albert Pujols and the Cards for the National League wild-card spot. But St. Louis clawed its way into the postseason with remarkable resilience.
The Cardinals later topped the best of the NL in improbable fashion, and defeated the heavily-favored Texas Rangers in a thrilling seven games to claim their eleventh World Series title in franchise history.
A Giant Snub
Like the Cardinals, the NFL's New York Giants tiptoed their way into the playoffs, only to upset the NFC's top teams—including 15-1 Green Bay—before reaching Super Bowl XLVI. At 9-7, Big Blue won a heart-stopper against the New England Patriots.
The Heat weren't clear-cut favorites to win it all heading into the NBA postseason, but they were far from the underdogs seen in St. Louis and New York.
Thus, we're presented with a strange middle-ground. As evidenced by the tepid reaction of Miami's Mike Miller and Juwan Howard at the victor's podium, the Heat were far from sports' best team in 2011-12.
Is this another chip on the shoulder of LeBron and Miami? Is this just another instance of the perpetually-hated Heat not getting the respect they deserve? Maybe. But far more likely, this is the short attention span of sports botching a pretty bold award.
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