Miami Heat fans have had a terrible few months.
First came the 4-1 bludgeoning at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals—slamming the door on a historic three-peat bid. Then, once the team's shot at near-term glory was smothered, Miami’s long-range hopes were extinguished as well. LeBron James went home and took the Heat's title hopes with him.
If they’re not, Miami fans should be angry about this.
There are a lot of qualifiers here, of course. Anger about the vicissitudes of a professional basketball team, to most right-thinking people, seems misplaced.
But sports are important to people. The outcomes of these contests affect us. That’s why you’re reading this and I’m writing it. And that’s enough to make them meaningful. Excuse the tautology, but sports matter because they matter.
Rooting for a championship-caliber team is an exhilarating experience. And pulling for a team that actually wins a championship (or two) is even more gratifying. But, oddly, as tremendous as that sort of vicarious accomplishment is, it’s even worse to be stripped of it.
Human beings have all manner of peculiar psychological quirks. One of the strangest is the way we respond to loss. Turns out, as much as people love winning, we despise losing even more. This notion, "loss aversion," was coined by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.
Prospect theory simply observes that we are about twice as upset to lose something as we would be happy to gain the same thing. If you misplace a $20 bill, you'll be twice as pissed at yourself as you would be glad to find a twenty on the sidewalk. Experiments show that this is a universal human tendency.
It’s pretty easy to grasp the implications loss aversion has vis-a-vis the mood of the Heat faithful. What they had was amazing. And losing it was, and will be, even worse.
So there’s going to be anger. And it will be directed at something. But what?
It probably won’t be James himself. He delivered the city two titles, four Finals appearances and the best run in franchise history. And he did it in a maximally entertaining way—dominating, at times, on both ends of the floor, leading fast breaks with locomotive force and generally and unequivocally being the best basketball player on God’s green earth.
Even the way James handled his exit from South Beach was difficult to fault. His essay in Sports Illustrated was thoughtful and measured. While he was clearly happy to be heading back to Cleveland, he lauded the Heat organization and his time in Miami:
I went to Miami because of D-Wade and CB. We made sacrifices to keep UD. I loved becoming a big bro to Rio. I believed we could do something magical if we came together. And that’s exactly what we did! The hardest thing to leave is what I built with those guys. I’ve talked to some of them and will talk to others. Nothing will ever change what we accomplished. We are brothers for life. I also want to thank Micky Arison and Pat Riley for giving me an amazing four years.
He’s a hard guy not to like.
But the Cleveland Cavaliers? They’re a piece of cake to despise.
They’re an aggressive, historically stumbling organization that’s in a position to contend next season, and for the foreseeable future, merely because the best player in the world happened to be born in northeastern Ohio. And they got obscenely lucky, for consecutive years, on lottery night.
They did absolutely little-to-nothing to earn the success they’re almost certainly about to enjoy.
This is an organization that woke up on third base and thought it hit a triple. The entirety of the NBA would be forgiven if it handled the ascent of the 2014-15 Cavs with disdain.
So when LeBron James and his shiny new team come to AmericanAirlines Arena on Christmas Day, Heat fans have permission to boo with abandon. Permission or no, that's certainly what they'll do.