LeBron James: 20 Ways He and the Miami Heat Could Turn from Villains to Heroes
In sports, fans often search for clearly-defined narratives pitting heroes versus villains, positioning one player or team as the bad guy(s) they love to root against.
The perfect villain narrative was born on July 8, the eve of LeBron James' televised soap opera "The Decision," where he announced his signing with the Miami Heat. He became public enemy number one in the minds of countless NBA fans during the primetime television spectacle, accused of spurning the city of Cleveland by departing without remorse and deciding to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach. This created a super-team that immediately became the central focus of much of the NBA's media coverage leading into the new season.
Now that the 2010-2011 season is underway, the focus has shifted from off-court drama to how a team with LeBron, Wade and Bosh can perform over 82 games, and whether their egos and alpha-male tendencies on the court can co-exist. But plenty of animosity for King James remains, lingering in the minds of many fans and analysts across the league.
Even though the Heat are currently the clear villains, these types of roles can shift on a dime in fans' minds. Feelings of love and hate among the general sports-watching public are often transient, and as a result, there remain opportunities for LeBron James and the Miami Heat to transform themselves from villains into heroes.
Here we'll go through 20 ways the Superfriends can win over the haters and become the heroes of the NBA season.
Defer to Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade enjoys a reputation as a clutch playmaker capable of single-handedly winning important games by putting his teammates on his back and carrying them to victory. He's got an NBA Championship under his belt, and even when the LeBron signing was announced, Wade was still considered the Heat's leader and the true face of the franchise.
So LeBron James could win some likability points by frequently deferring to Wade as the team leader and go-to guy, even in spite of his own ego and drive to be one of the game's greats. It would create a sense of unity and cohesion on the court, as opposed to having LeBron and Wade potentially clashing over who takes the big shot or who has the ball most often in their hands late in games.
If Wade gets the lion's share of the crucial shots, and is actually set up for success by LeBron, then people will recognize that it's a true team concept being built in Miami, not a stable of high-priced stars playing their own game while masquerading as a team.
Develop the Glue Guys
Developing identities for the rest of the Heat's roster goes a long way in building respect for the entire team and lessens the white-hot focus on James, Wade and Bosh. LeBron can have a direct impact on players like Carlos Arroyo, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and the rest of the Heat's rotation simply by finding them when they're open off expected double teams bound to swarm around James at times.
If other members of the Heat outside of their Big Three step up in big ways throughout a successful year, fans will be forced to take notice. It comes back to the team concept, which I think can go a long way to erasing much of the negativity aimed at Miami.
Try To Bury The Hatchet With Cleveland
Not exactly sure how one makes amends with an entire city, but LeBron James should at least make a concerted and heartfelt effort to do so upon his first return to Cleveland, where he made his NBA name from the start of his career.
It starts with sitting down with disgruntled Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and trying to talk through all the issues that led Gilbert to fire off a heated, scathing letter to Cavs fans on the night of James' defection. It also would entail saying all the right things leading up to his first game in Cleveland, and showing respect and class through what will surely be a hostile environment at Quicken Loans Arena.
Will Cleveland ever be totally fine with James? I would venture to say absolutely not, but LeBron would do a lot for his standing across the league by giving a strong effort to at least playing the PR game of chasing down the forgiveness of Cleveland and its fans.
Spread The Wealth Around Miami
Athlete philanthropy is often dismissed as par for the course for each professional league's numerous millionaires. In LeBron James' case though, doing good across Miami will have multiple positive results. It improves his standing with his newly-acquired home fans, and makes it clear to outsiders that he is not this big self-centered boogeyman, as he's often portrayed.
James taking up causes in South Beach will do more than the fact that the proceeds of The Decision were donated to a Boys & Girls Club, a move that was often overlooked both at the time, and now in retrospect.
Beat The East's Elite
Winning breeds respect and can work to lessen skepticism and hatred, and the biggest wins LeBron James and the Heat can secure early in the season are ones against other teams in the Eastern Conference that are considered elite and capable of making the NBA Finals.
The Heat got off to a 50/50 start down this road, losing on opening night to the Boston Celtics, but they followed that up with a resounding blowout win over in-state rivals the Orlando Magic.
Having consistent success against Boston, Orlando and Chicago will go far towards cementing the Heat as a legit contender, and more than just a collection of stars. No matter how many fans like to look down on front runners who jump onto bandwagons, wins against these three teams throughout the year will be sure to win Miami some new-found fans.
Let LeBron Run The Point
The country is used to LeBron James the scorer, capable of outmuscling opponents going to the rim and knocking down shots all across the floor. But get everyone acclimated with LeBron the playmaker, who throws precision passes and finds the open man with stunning regularity, and basketball fans might take on a whole other appreciation for the King's skill set.
If LeBron sees his impact on the game shift from scoring 30 every night and taking a ton of shots, to being able to compensate on nights when his shot isn't falling by getting everyone else on the floor highly involved, he will be looked at in a whole new light.
If his assists soar upwards this year, I think fans will take notice that he is in fact a complete player, someone who can make others look great, and have a new respect for King James.
Let LeBron Make Some Big Shots
While I've already said that LeBron would be best served getting Dwyane Wade the ball at crunch time, there still should be some opportunities for James to make some pivotal shots and plays when his team needs it most.
LeBron got criticized quite a bit for seeming to run from the role of leader and crunch time performer upon signing with the Heat, perceived to wholly be D-Wade's team.
But there will come a time when LeBron can step up and knock down a game-winner, and I think that will play a big role in getting fans off his back, and lessen the critiques of LeBron shrinking under pressure.
Battle Through Adversity
Thus far the biggest injury Miami has had to deal with is Mike Miller's major thumb injury expected to keep him out until January potentially.
However, it's no sure thing that some other unforeseen circumstances don't mess with the three-headed monster on the Heat's roster. The grind of an NBA season takes a toll, though, and Dwyane Wade particularly has a reputation for putting his body on the line and getting banged up.
So it's possible Miami will be faced, at some point this year, with some injury-inspired adversity. And it will be key for the Heat to battle through this type of potential issue by continuing to win and continuing to show resolve
Goe Toe-to-Toe With Kobe Bryant
The league's top dog right now has to remain the Black Mamba, the reigning NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers' superstar Kobe Bryant. If the Heat are going to win over their numerous critics, they will have to square off with the purple and gold and come out on top.
Obviously the biggest possible triumph over LA would come in June, but even beating the Lakers in the regular season will do well to convert some of the more pessimistic fans out there that thing that LA will stop LeBron and company.
Avoid Off-Court Distractions
The biggest boon to the Heat would be to stay out of the headlines except for on the sports pages detailing their last game. They don't need to have any players entangled in dramas that don't take place in a night's given 48 minute performance.
So LeBron will need to avoid any Twitter-fueled blow ups, and even the 12th man on the bench will do well to avoid drawing attention to themselves for anything but their work on the court. Sports fans are much happier hearing only about performances, and not having to wade through controversies and dramas (see: Brett Favre).
Keep Pat Riley tn the Front Office
While Pat Riley gets much of the attention as the man behind the Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra is still the head coach, and the team needs to keep it that way by performing for him and defending him, keeping Pat Riley from intervening and inserting himself as head coach.
Fans still remember the way Stan Van Gundy was moved aside by Riley, as the team struggled to perform for Van Gundy and some friction developed in the locker room.
The leadership of this Miami team needs to stand behind their coach, and play hard for him night in and night out. He is considered extremely close with Wade, but a prolonged slump for this high-expectations squad could lead to whispers of Riley's return to the sidelines. This would be a setback for the Heat's image, even if Riley is a legendary coach. So they would do well to rally behind Spoelstra throughout this year.
Win At Home, Bring Out Big Crowds
There were reports of tickets remaining available for the Heat's home opener on the day of the game, and Miami is often considered a town in which fans only consistently turn out for winners and championship contenders.
As a result, the importance of winning at home increases for this year's Heat. If the Heat make it a true home court advantage, they'll need to draw out as many fans as they can night in and night out.
That means winning early and often on their home court, as it will be harder for national cheap shots to come directed at the Miami fans if they're packing the arena and loudly supporting their team throughout the year.
Dominate Inferior Teams
It's the NBA, so every roster has legit talent on it, on even the weakest of teams. The Heat have already blown out the Orlando Magic, posting a 26 point win against an elite squad. They will need to turn in similar dominating performances against the league's lesser teams in order to establish their true superiority.
They played a close affair with the Sixers in Philadelphia in what ultimately was a Miami win, but some convincing wins against teams expected to sit at the bottom of each conference will go a long way towards impressing doubting fans and winning over new supporters.
Embrace Some of the Hate
I think LeBron James has already taken a step in this direction by putting together his newly-released Nike ad in which he frequently asks "What do you want me to do?", and then provides a number of hypothetical answers.
The Heat should openly savor the hatred they'll receive from fans when they visit cities and play on the road. It's not a bad thing to be considered the villain so openly as the Heat are currently, as it means they're a quality team that's a threat to their home squads.
James, Wade and Bosh would do well in fans' eyes by playing to opposing crowds and engaging them almost in Reggie Miller-like ways (although maybe not as extreme as Reggie and the Knicks in the 90's).
Run Away in the Eastern Conference Standings
The Eastern Conference has quality teams expected to be around the top of the conference standings, but if Miami is able to firmly assert its grasp on the top spot in the conference and hold onto it for long stretches of the season, they would win over a lot of doubters.
It would mean asserting their dominance over Boston, Orlando and Chicago, while also exhibiting consistency needed to truly place themselves as an elite team in the league. While going wire to wire is out of the question, at least coming close would do Miami very well.
Excel on Defense
When people think of the talents of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, much of the focus is on their offensive games.
However, if LeBron and company clamp down on defense and use their otherworldly natural abilities to shut down opponents and keep points against at a minimum, they will garner a whole new level of respect.
The physical strength and athleticism of all three players are impressive assets, but none are known predominantly for their defensive leanings. If Bosh and James improve on D and have successful stints shutting down premiere players they're asked to cover, fans will find some new respect for the Heat.
Survive A Tough Playoff Series
Even though the Heat are many experts' picks to win the NBA title, I don't think many expect it to be easy. Miami will need to survive and prevail in a hard-fought, lengthy playoff series if it's to march to a title in their first year with three superstars.
I think the perfect scenario is the Heat surviving a seven game series against the East's incumbent top team, the Boston Celtics.
It would erase much doubt that hounds LeBron James coming off the Cavaliers flop in the playoffs against Boston in the East Semis last spring, and also prove the strength of Miami as they would move ahead towards a title.
Produce an MVP
It's a lot to ask of a team with three great players, along with a league that also features superstars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant to name just two.
However, if Miami can get LeBron James (or even Dwyane Wade) an MVP trophy at the end of the year, off the heels of an unprecedented and dominant regular season, I think that would go a long way in the fans' eyes.
It would mean erasing the lingering perception of the three superstars canceling each other's usual production out, allowing one of them to still post an amazing season.
It may be unlikely, but if LeBron or Wade capture an NBA MVP trophy, the perception of fans has to change.
Get to the NBA Finals And Win
Snatch the O'Brien Trophy away from the Los Angeles Lakers, and justify all the glitz and attention showered down onto the newly-formed Heat roster by capturing a title in the first season together in South Beach.
Doubters can't really voice too many complaints about a team that ultimately wins it all, so the Heat have the best chance of becoming heroes simply by winning in June.
Not Be Satisfied With One NBA Championship
The prime directive of the Superfriends was to win a title, and if they succeed in year one, they need to be absolutely focused on winning it again the very next year. Legacies are built on multiple NBA championships, and in the wake of a potential Heat title in June 2011, all the talk from Wade, LeBron and company will need to be about still being focused on defending their crowns and going for a repeat.
Kobe Bryant is the most recent example for LeBron and the Heat to follow, and if they're fortunate enough to win it all, Miami will keep building support just by talking a big game and by repeating and planting themselves at the top of the NBA food chain for many years to come.