12:01am

Wed June 1, 2011
Sweetness And Light

If You Can't Stand The Heat ...

Miami beat Dallas Tuesday night in the first game of the NBA finals. Boo. Hiss.

Please understand, that's just the consensus expressing an opinion. Nobody much outside of South Florida roots for the Heat. In fact, it's hard for anybody outside of South Florida to like the Heat fans, inasmuch as they all come wearing white, so a Heat home game, like last night, looks like a dentist convention or an agricultural rally of Cuban Communists in Havana.

Actually, it's only a very few American teams that engender broad national antipathy. The Yankees, of course — the so-named Evil Empire — because they're everything everybody hates about New York City, plus they're smug and they buy victory. The Cowboys, because they're everything everybody hates about Texas, plus they're precious and call themselves "America's Team."

A lot of America did used to be constitutionally opposed to Notre Dame football, but now the Irish don't win enough to earn sufficient revulsion. Instead, now the one college team that America loves to boo is Duke basketball, because it's a hoity-toity private school and the players are supposed to be smart. So we have a situation where Duke is reviled by fans for being bright and honorable, while the national champions from the University of Connecticut, who have been punished for a recruiting violation and who put up one of the worst academic records in the nation — failing the NCAA minimum grade standard — are held in high esteem. This sort of attitude about college student athletics helps explain why the U.S. now ranks educationally down around Lower Slobovia.

As for professional loathing, Americans don't like the Heat because LeBron James, the best player in the game, got Chris Bosh, another one of the best, to go join yet another superstar, Dwyane Wade, at Miami, thereby creating a cartel instead of a team. It did not help that James announced his decision on a tacky TV show where he pronounced, grandiloquently, that he was "taking his talents to South Beach" — the most notorious athletic statement since Leo Durocher said, "Nice guys finish last."

Despite this glut of talent, the Heat have struggled some on the way to the finals. Invariably then, the stars have alibied that they haven't played together long enough. Imagine three of the best actors in the world playing Hamlet, Ophelia and Horatio for eight months and telling the critics they can't quite get their cues down yet.

But in terms of popularity, maybe it really doesn't matter. The next worst thing to being expected to win and losing is being expected to win ... and winning. Especially as the Evil Empire and America's Team struggle, the Heat are now the team you love to hate.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.