NBA's Evil Empire? Heat Players Challenge Cuban's Comparison to NFL's Raiders

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NBA's Evil Empire? Heat Players Challenge Cuban's Comparison to NFL's Raiders

MIAMI — Over recent years, the Miami Heat have perfected a few rote responses to Mark Cuban's remarks.

There's the eye roll—that's almost automatic.

There's the dismissive "no comment," which LeBron James offered Saturday night, and not a word more.

And there's the sly shot, which Dwyane Wade took a few minutes later when told—in incomplete context—that the Dallas Mavericks owner had called the Miami Heat "bad guys" and argued that it is beneficial for the NBA to have such villains.

"Do I agree with Mark Cuban on anything?" Wade asked, smiling. "I don't have to. If it's great for the NBA, I'm with it. I don't have to agree with Mark, though."

No, he doesn't, but it still made sense to present Cuban's sentiments as accurately as possible. So that's what Bleacher Report did after Monday's practice, reading them aloud to five Heat players for their assessment.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What exactly did Cuban—whose team lost to the Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals and beat them in the 2011 NBA Finals—tell Dallas-area reporters Friday? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

With the two titles, they're still like the bad guys. There's a confidence bordering on arrogance that is good for them as a team and good for us as a league because it also makes them the team that everybody wants to knock off.

They're kind of in some respects the Oakland Raiders—and I know that's going to get picked up everywhere. They're kind of like the Oakland Raiders when they are winning. I don't want to compare Micky [Arison] to Al Davis—that's not fair—but you either love them or you hate them.

That's always good for the NBA, when you have a team that everybody looks forward to beating. Like when we beat them, I would go to places I've never been and people would give me a standing ovation. That's good for the NBA.

So, you see, there's some praise in there.

If the Heat weren't good at their jobs, beating them wouldn't impress anyone.

But there's also a comparison—to the renegade Raiders—that doesn't sound especially apt, considering that no members of the Miami Heat have run into any off-court trouble since the start of the 2010-11 season. (Chris Andersen and Michael Beasley did, but they weren't with the Heat at the time, and Andersen has been cleared of all charges.)

Late Raiders safety Jack Tatum was one of the most feared players in the history of the NFL (video via NFL.com). Who does Mark Cuban see as being the Heat's Jack Tatum?

It's also hard to imagine those Raiders spending the pregame period reading books about finance (like James Jones) or matter in the universe (like Chris Bosh), let alone waxing on endlessly about current events, like Ray Allen, Shane Battier and several others do.

Nor has Cuban been on the road with the Heat lately, to witness the much warmer reception the Heat now experience in many cities.

Enough of that, though.

What do the players think?

Do they view themselves in silver-and-black terms, as far as the public perception?

"Nah, I don't see us like that," Mario Chalmers said. "Maybe the first year when we came together, we were the Raiders, we were the bad guys. But now, we've slightly turned into America's Team. Everybody cheering for us wherever we are. So I don't agree with that comment at all. Everybody wants to see the Heat play, see what the Heat do."

Because they're the NBA's current Bad Boys?

"We're a Bad Boys team on the court," Chalmers said. "But off the court, we all know what's important. We've made an investment to the organization, to ourselves and our families. So we do everything together and everything right."

"We're not a band of misfits," forward Udonis Haslem said. "I mean, that's one guy's opinions. I understand, being back-to-back champions, everybody wants to beat us. That's understood. But I think the Oakland Raiders thing is a little, little inaccurate."

Shane Battier, who wasn't with the Heat during their most polarizing season (2010-11), has observed that that the "vitriol is considerably less" now than when he joined the team in the summer of 2011, prior to the first championship of the post-Decision era.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

"There is a real hunger to beat us in Indiana and Chicago and (from) the top teams in the NBA, but I think that just comes from having success," said Battier, who has experience playing a central role for a much-admired (but also widely disliked) team at Duke. "And I think people have gotten over The Decision, in terms of the general public. Of course, when you win, there's always going to be detractors, because people want to see fresh teams winning and just want a new storyline. But I grew up when the Oakland Raiders were pretty good, and it's a different feel. The old Raiders walked down the middle of the street with their middle fingers up at everybody. We're not that way. We have confidence in what we do, and we've worked really hard, so we feel we've earned our victories."

Battier didn't accept the "bordering on arrogance" characterization.

"We don't shove it in anyone's face," Battier said. "We don't taunt people. We want to win because we want to win."

"I don't know where the arrogance is," Haslem said. "I mean, we're confident, but so should every team be. You know, we don't act like we're better than anybody. We don't act entitled. We don't send film or any complaints to the refs about calls we don't get. Everybody does that but us..."

Cuban has been especially vocal in his criticism of officials, with the fines to prove it.

"We just go about our business and play the game," Haslem said. "We adjust to the officials, we adjust to the way the game is being played, and we figure it out."

Ray Allen had to figure out his new team last summer, not just on the floor, but off. From the outside, he was in circles where "there was a great hatred." Now that he's with Miami, "they love the team now."

"So it's hard for me to see it or understand that," Allen said. "But in my opinion, there's no rational explanation as to why they would, because each one of these guys, from the first to the last man, are very likable on this team and work extremely hard. I think public opinion has swayed over the last year, because you just see who LeBron is, and you appreciate him, and D-Wade. It's just sports." 

Every region will have its team.

"But just as long as the people in Florida love us," Allen said.

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Allen called the Heat "the most intelligent team I've been around."

"Guys' intellects, true gentlemen in my opinion, people who give back to the community," Allen said. "A lot of people outside don't see that, authentically give back to try to improve their surroundings. And again, real men, real adults. So it's been a pleasure, me being in the locker room, because who we are isn't defined by what we do."

Those men appear to have reached a consensus:

They won't be defined by the Mavericks owner, or any other.

"They're still worried about us; we're not worried about them," James Jones said. "We only concern ourselves with what we need to do. How the world, how other teams view us, that's up to them. They use it as motivation to play against us. We don't need that external motivation."

But it does seem to keep coming.

"It makes for a good story," Jones said. "Point made: Mark Cuban is in the paper again."

 

Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.

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