Someday you may feel their pain. • Just not yet. • Someday you may feel the ache of LeBron James' hunger. Someday you may see him as a sympathetic figure trying to overcome his bravado. Someday you might enjoy the notion of him as a champion. • But not now. • Someday you may cheer Dwyane Wade as he drives toward the basket. Someday you might wince as his final shot clanks harmlessly away. Someday you think another ring might look good on his hand. • Still, it is going to take some time. • I'd say, oh, until 2017 or so. • Maybe 2018. • For now the players of the Miami Heat remain the favorite villains of the NBA. To many they are still the guys who tried to stack the deck, the guys who started counting their titles before they shed a drop of sweat, the guys who carry themselves as the self-appointed royalty of the NBA. It doesn't matter which NBA team you pull for, the Heat is still the one you are most likely to pull against.
This year it has been slightly different. There seems to be less volume to the dislike of the Heat. Outsiders still don't pull for the Heat, but last year's outrage seems to have been replaced by a quieter disdain, one where fans wait until the team stumbles before they chuckle out loud.
This is progress, one supposes. Still, if this season ends short of a championship for the Heat, the celebration from outsiders will sound like a special episode of Glee. Only with more, you know, glee.
All of which leads us to tonight, and to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final, and to what might be the most important game of the James-Wade Look At Me Tour. Just that.
Call it a heat-on-Heat proposition. The Heat has to win. It has now lost two games in a row, and Wade keeps having bursts of ordinary, and the 78-year-old players of the Celtics suddenly look spry.
Also, the team keeps starting slow, and the players keep grousing about the officiating, and coach-for-now Erik Spoelstra has talked about how his team needs more energy. That isn't a call a coach should have to make at this point of the playoffs.
Lose this game and the odds are the Heat will lose the series. Then what happens? Aside from the aforementioned pointing and laughing, I mean.
In South Florida there has been talk that a quick loss in the playoffs would invite a discussion of how severely to revamp this team. For crying out loud, there have been rumors of the Heat trading for Magic center Dwight Howard. And you think the Heat is disliked now? Add Howard to this roster and you might hire Ozzie Guillen as coach, Metta World Peace as general manager and Mel Gibson as public relations director.
Still, can you imagine the aftermath if the Heat lets another NBA title get away? Of course you can. For a lot of NBA fans, there is no finer concept than the Heat underachieving once more. That's what the Heat has brought on itself: Win a title or explain why it didn't.
To be candid, I've never been convinced the backlash toward the Heat is entirely reasonable. James didn't invent free agency, or the idea of leaving Cleveland. There is nothing sinister about Wade. Chris Bosh? In the pecking order of the Big Three, he's Fredo Corleone. Nothing much to fear there.
But this is who we are. We like a bad guy in the script, and we like to see him fail in his attempt at world domination. Tell us how good you are and we will laugh as life humbles you.
And so we notice when the Heat shoots 1-for-8 in overtime. And when LeBron passes up a big shot at the end. And when Wade misses one.
Who knows? Someday perhaps we will look at things differently. Perhaps James will evolve into an elder statesman, measured with his words, careful with his approach. Perhaps Wade will become an ambassador. Perhaps the franchise will be admired.
First, they have to win a title or two.