Do You Know Your Enemy? Why we should all root for the Miami Heat to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder

The 2012 NBA finals presents more than a match up of two young, exciting, athletic teams. They present a rooting litmus test. In one corner, we have the Miami Heat, a team scorned for being built around a hastily assembled group of free agent All-Stars Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the great LeBron James. No player in NBA history has been scrutinized, picked apart, and even despised quite like James. The three-time MVP’s unforgivable crime, now two years old, was neither a felony nor misdemeanor nor even a bad attitude. It was his awkwardly managed departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers and “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” He also earns arrows of anger for his alleged inability to step up his game when the game is on the line. In addition, his patchwork Miami team in the eyes of many is as plastic, superficial, and empty as the city they call home.

In the other corner, we have the Oklahoma City Thunder, a small market franchise beloved by the sports media and fans for "doing it the right way." They drafted beautifully and evolved organically toward greatness. They are also led by Kevin Durant the NBA’s most endearing superstar. The “Durantula” is only 23 but already has three scoring titles and he absolutely lusts for the big moment. He also, unlike LeBron, signed a long-term contract to stay in a small market because he wanted to take the team that drafted him to a title.

With such seemingly opposite teams and stars, the media is already writing the 2012 finals script of “good vs. evil."  It’s an easy, by the numbers narrative. It’s also bizarro world bullshit. This is one case where good is evil and the evil in question resides in shadows where fans choose not to look I would argue that how we choose to see the Heat and Thunder is a litmus test. It’s a litmus test that reveals how the sports radio obsession with villainizing 21st century athletes blinds us to the swelling number of villains who inhabit the owner’s box. And in Oklahoma City, we have the kinds of sports owners whose villainy should never be forgotten.

Strip away the drama and the Heat are called “evil” because their star players exercised free agency and - agree or disagree with their decision - took control of their own careers. The Thunder are praised for doing it the “right way” but no franchise is more caked in original sin than the team from Oklahoma City. Their owners, Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, with an assist from NBA Commissioner David Stern, stole their team with the naked audacity of Frank and Jesse James from the people of Seattle.

For non-NBA fans, as recently as 2008 the OKC Thunder were the Seattle Supersonics, a team of great tradition, flare, and fan support. They were Slick Watts’s headband, Jack Sikma’s perm, and Gary Payton’s scowl. They were a beloved team in a basketball town. Then the people of Seattle committed an unpardonable offense in the eyes of David Stern. They loved their team but refused to pay for a new taxpayer funded 300 million dollar arena. Seattle's citizens voted down referendums, organized meetings, and held rallies with the goal of keeping the team housed in a perfectly good building called the Key Arena. Despite a whirlwind of threats, the people of Seattle wouldn’t budge so Stern made an example of them. Along with Supersonics team owner and Starbucks founder Howard Schultz – who could have paid for his own new arena with latte profits alone - Stern recruited two Oklahoma City based billionaires, Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, to buy the team and manipulate their forcible extraction from Seattle to OKC.

Stern is a political liberal who has sat on the board of the NAACP. Bennett and McLendon are big Republican moneymen who hobby is funding anti-Gay referendums. Yet these three men are united in their addiction to our tax dollars. In Oklahoma City, where rivers of corporate welfare awaited an NBA franchise, Stern, Bennett, and McClendon had found their Shangri-La.

Bennett, Stern, and McClendon lied repeatedly that they would make every effort to keep the team in Seattle, McClendon however gave the game away in 2007, when he said to The Oklahoma City Journal Record, "We didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle, we hoped to come here….We started to look around and at that time the Sonics were going through some ownership challenges in Seattle. So Clay, very artfully and skillfully, put himself in the middle of those discussions and to the great amazement and surprise to everyone in Seattle, some rednecks from Oklahoma, which we've been called, made off with the team."

While Bennett said all the right things about keeping the Sonics in Seattle, a team executive dinner on Sept 9th 2006, tells you all you need to know about the man and his motives. On that fine evening, the Sonics management, all held over from the previous ownership regime, all Pacific Northwesters, gathered in Oklahoma to meet the new boss. 

Bennett made sure they were sent to a top restaurant, and picked up the bill. As the Seattle execs sat down, four plates of a deep fried appetizer were put on the table. After filling their mouths with the crispy goodness, one asked the waitress what this curious dish with a nutty flavor actually was. It was lamb testicles. Bennett laughed at their discomfort and the message was clear: the Sonics could eat his balls. [See Sonicsgate.com for a full accounting of this theft.]

If the Thunder win the 2012 title, the Clay Bennett/David Stern approach will be lionized throughout pro sports. The theft of the Sonics will be justified and cities involved in stadium negotiations will be threatened with being “the next Seattle" if they don't acquiesce to the whims of the sporting 1%. A championship for the Thunder would be a victory for holding up cities for public money. It would be a victory for ripping out the hearts of loyal sports towns. 

It would be a victory for greed, collusion, and a corporate crime that remains unprosecuted. Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon don’t deserve anyone's cheers.  I don’t just want the Thunder to lose. I want LeBron James to make them  wish they’d never left the Emerald City. That is why no matter how much you dislike the ill-fitting “Dream Team” in South Beach, or swoon at the sight of Kevin Durant, anyone who cares about the relationship of teams to their cities and decries the way pro sports is used as an instrument of corporate looting, should know who to root for and who to root against. Without equivocation, all true NBA fans, in the name of Slick Watts, should sound three words this championship season: 

“Let’s go Heat.”

14 Reader Comments | Add a comment

A solution

How about this: May the better team win. BTW I've had Rocky Mountain Oysters(pig testicles) and they're not bad.

Secret

"Seems nobody has the taste for testicles anymore.The secret is, you got to cut em off real high." - Waitress in "Funny Farm"

Politically Correct Sports

LOL you should do an entire playoffs of PC picks-- what a hoot.

PC sports is so confusing:

As I recall, Zirin was one of those racist white sportswriters bashing LeBron because he had the temerity to do what he thought was right for himself as a capitalist.

Guess what, American Airlines Arena was built with taxpayer subsidies by Miami-Dade County.

And they have all those mean Cuban-Americans who tell the truth about Red Zirin's hero Fidel Castro.

Solution, Part Deux

DZ decries the corporate crime occurring in the sports world and makes a plea for fans to rebel against this greed and collusion. I'm with him, and this is why he and fans of his ilk should join me in cheering and supporting my favorite Olympic team which of course is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or just plain North Korea.

Not only are the stadiums people-owned but even the players are publicly-owned. This is a first-class(hate the word) Utopia. How could DZ object. Three cheers for Kim Jong Un.

Come to think of if...

why was Lebron demonized a lot more for going to Miami than the Sonics/Thunder owners were for moving the team to OKC? Seems to me the latter is worse by a good measure.

PS

anything is good if its fried. And with ketchup.

Thunder vs. Heat

Once again Dave you open my eyes.Vilify the players&their rights:praise the owners.We here in Wis. know all about this,thanks to our(?)gov.Mr. divide&conquer& no collective bargaining .But damn Durant is ever so smooth.Still i is wearing my t-shirt(Seattle Supersonics-Champs (96-97)

"I just can't quit you."

Dave, I read Bad Sports. I follow Save Our Sonics on the web and on Facebook. I even rooted for Glove and Kemp to beat Jordan and Scottie Tissue even though I knew it wasn't going to happen. I hate the shame of publicly scammed stadiums. I hate that not only did Aubrey McKetchup cheat Seattle fans, but Reuters describes in detail how he even cheats his investors in his local power concern in ways that would make Montgomery Burns proud.

But...the Thunder play team ball. They manage the salary cap. They hire diverse talent and give good first breaks to new faces. On the court, they are so easy to love. If the Spurs were in it, their owner is buddies with Rick Perry. The Clippers have the always embarrassing Donald Sterling., and how do you choose between Sterling and anybody else? Mollach looks good next to Sterling.

Can you find cool owners? How many progressives have $500million sitting around to buy a team? The Heat's Mickey Aronsin might be better than most, but it's not like he's Dennis Kucenich with a pro team.

I love team ball. The Bad Boy Pistons. The Clutch City Rockets. The Charles Barkley/Kevin Johnson Suns (I know...Colangelo, but he is a great team builder). Even the Nick Van Exel/ Eddie Jones Lakers. Lebron has always been the enemy of all that team basketball. I guess when it comes to pro hoops, I'm a Pistons fan before I'm a progressive. Gotta root for Durant and Harden and I-Blocka. Gotta root against "not one, not two, not three, not four...". Politics are in my head. Hoops are in my heart.

Stinks for Seattle, but part of the business

I can understand Seattle fans' woe over losing the one sports franchise in the city with any noteworthy success. It was a loss for their fanbase, and big market loss for the NBA. Still, blaming Bennett or McClendon for moving the team is like being angry at the dog for eating all the meat in the fridge when somebody chocks the door for the weekend. After owning the Sonics for 5 brief, regrettable years, Howard Schultz must have acknowledged his own incompetence (nearly every draft pick from 2001-2006 a disaster) and wanted out. Remember that when he tried to unload the team, he practically begged suitors from non-NBA cities like Kansas City and Las Vegas to take the team off his hands. It is disingenuous to think he had no idea that an Oklahoma guy with no ties to the Pacific Northwest would buy the team just to keep it there.

You can hate Stern for this if you want, but if you've noticed trends since this sale, the league has had to take custody of the Hornets for 2 years, the Malouf brothers have had a FOR SALE sign on the Kings, a Russian billionnaire bought the Nets, and owners stopped operation on the claim that some to most of them were separately losing money. The NFL blocked Rush Limbaugh's group from buying a team. The Cubs sold for $800 million. The Dodgers sold after a bidding war for over $2 billion. The NBA has not refused a bidder with a good check, and had trouble finding a buyer for one of its strays. I doubt Stern wanted a team to leave Seattle for a smaller, poorer market with no pro sports history, but when you've got more than one owner losing financial grip on a franchise, there's a limit on what you can stop an owner from doing.

Of the two, I'd prefer the Heat win the series, but basketballwise, I give the new owners credit for sharp moves in the draft, free agency, and trades.

NBA

Players should invest in an amateur league. Develop a small local club system the same way european soccer clubs started, as a place for amateurs who love the game to get together and promote the sport.

The NBA has totally lost me. The players are just high priced prostitutes faking it. The game needs to get back to community, love of the game and teammates.

If Lebron and D-Wade had their own team and played people and charged on youtube, I'd watch it and pay money. I won't watch them playing in the NBA if its free. That's how much I hate the NBA product, including Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and those characters.

Miami Heat & OKC Thunder

I like the players on the Thunder and I understand where you're coming from Dave.

Another item about the Heat as a team of people-their standing up against the Trevon Martin murder.

Remember if you will, the media was coming out with almost only positive stories about the shooter, George Zimmerman.

The Heat's simple, bowed heads hoodie photo said volumes.

Dave,

thanks for reminding us about how the elite steal teams as well as trillions.

In dramatizing Cleveland working class, media neglects Miami poor

I smelled a rat when many in the sports media accused LeBron of leaving working class Cleveland for glitzy Miami. Uh, just how much of Miami would be glitzy, anyway? Last I checked, much of the MIA is extremely impoverished. And last I checked, poor kids in Miami's ghettos could use a hero like King James, too. Not a word about that in the media.

Wow Racist Moi

You are a bigger clown then, Tornado.

To MikeSk

And what's wrong being a clown? My clown friends all fit in the same car, and besides don't you mean bigger clown "than" instead of then. Of course I'm just clowning around.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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