Saturday, June 11, 2011

2011 NBA Finals Brings Unpredictable Ride; For MLS, Only Beckham Can Relate to LeBron

The NBA Finals this year has unexpectedly produced quite a few storylines for U.S. sports fans.  The general consensus from fans seems to be for them to root against the Miami Heat.  The Heat have painted themselves as villains, but not on purpose.  They did it unintentionally.

The Heat's main contributors, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, have all the moves on the basketball court, but apparently, not all the moves off when courting public opinion.  Instead of smooth sailing with drives to the basket, acrobatic dunks and jumpers to beat the shot-clock, these guys will be more remembered for a sequence of bold, ego-driven, insensitive public relations gaffes to promote themselves as already a dynasty without having won anything.  They have made it easy for sports fans to root against them.

It all seemed it was going to be all right after game one, when they won not easily, but soundly.  The press awarded them the series at that point.  Then, after a historic blown game two, they won game 3 in pretty good fashion on the road and the press said the Heat had shown they are the superior team and again declared the series over.  After a game 4 loss, most of the press was saying the Heat should have won the game and really the series should have been over (inferring Miami could have won already, 4-0), never mind the fact that the Dallas Mavericks put up a dogfight and gutted out a tough game 4 win.

Game 5 could have been the turning point as the Heat looked vulnerable losing going away in the fourth quarter.  The momentum is clearly on the side of the Mavericks and all of the sudden, it appears the Heat are doomed.

This could be a momentous collapse in recent pro sports history in the U.S.  If they do lose the series, game two's squandered 15 point fourth quarter lead will be the thing most pundits will look back at as the reason they lost.  The Heat will agree knowing it's hard to beat a team five times out of seven.

Just as it seems to be there for the Mavericks' taking, who knows, the Heat could surprise a lot of folks and win the last two games.  This has been the fun part of this series, not knowing what will happen next.  The Heat could win game six and lose game seven, stranger things have happened.

Whatever ends up transpiring in these finals, the league must be happy with all of the missteps by Lebron and his cohorts.  Lebron and his cohorts have sold this series to an American public maybe not quite ready to have been buying it.  It has sold and has even taken a foreign player and turned him into the 'good guy.'

Dirk Nowitzki is now a player to be rooting for.  There's sympathy for him because he's been a great player for a long time, while always playing with dignity and grace, and because of the way his same Mavericks team blew their own lead in the 2006 finals, losing to a Heat team led by Dwayne Wade.   

Interestingly, this compelling storyline of the Heat as villains, seems to be one that could last a while if the Heat lose this year, maybe even lasting a few more seasons.  The league has fashioned the Lebron James quest for a championship into a debate among sports fans of whether he is deserving or not to be a champion.  He purposely set himself up for success by coming to the Heat, but did he accidentally set himself up for failure?

The closest MLS has ever come to having a villain was not too long ago when David Beckham chose to challenge fans to fights, argue with Landon Donovan and ask to play elsewhere during the off-season.  Beckham is still chasing a championship, but he no longer seems a villain, after restoring his image by being a better teammate, settling in for a longer haul in L.A. and with his beautiful play on the field.

MLS wouldn't care if Beckham was seen more as a villain.  Generally speaking, MLS needs more characters in order to get the public's attention.  Lebron is proving that villains in sports get good TV ratings, something MLS desperately needs.

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