Let me start by saying that if you already have an NBA team that you fervently root for, then please don’t think this is trying to get you to switch. However, a lot of Kentucky residents don’t have a vested interest in any particular franchise. This is for them.
So, say you don’t have a favorite NBA team, and just root for whichever team has the most Kentucky guys. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. But players can change teams, and typically our allegiances go with them. If you want to have a consistent rooting interest in a team, you’ll typically need more than a couple transient players. So while I will always root for former UK players to have good games, the Miami Heat has been my franchise of choice since the 90s, when Jamal Mashburn played under Pat Riley. Former UK guys as player and coach? Yes, please. Plus the Hardaway/Mourning combo was pretty nasty in NBA Jam.
And now, in 2012, I think there’s no better time for Kentucky residents, and Wildcat fans, to root for the Heat.
1. Pat Riley
Pat Riley is as UK as UK comes. Though he hails from Schenectady (gesundheit), Kentucky has embraced him as one of our own for being one of Rupp’s Runts in the 1960s. And he obviously was paying attention to Mr. Rupp during his time on campus, because he went on to be one of the most brilliant NBA general managers the league has ever seen. Seriously, this guy is a lab coat away from being a diabolical genius.
Excuse me, I have to do science.
Not only did he coach Miami to the title in 2006, but he also arranged the “recruiting coup” a couple years ago that brought LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the Heat to be a part of the NBA’s new “Big Three.” Moreover, he’s been named one of the Top Ten Coaches in NBA History for his five overall titles (he won four with the Lakers in the 80s). Currently, he serves as the President for the Heat organization. Like it or not, this Miami team is Riley’s baby. One that he’s seen grow from infancy to, hopefully, championship-level maturity. Rooting against the Heat is rooting against Pat Riley. And we should know better than to do that.
2. LeBron James
This is less about liking him as a basketball player (which I do), and more about liking him a a recruiting aid. Over the last three years, James has become a pretty good friend of the program, and of Cal, and that relationship goes a long way in the recruiting world. You think high school players don’t get excited about going to one of three schools that got special editions of the LeBron 9s to wear for games? I know I would. And let’s not forget this:
There are plenty of reasons for people across the country to loathe LeBron James. Particularly people in Ohio. I hear they’re still a little grumpy. But he’s only ever been good to the Kentucky program, and the benefits to having the NBA’s biggest star on your sidelines and using your Twitter hashtags are pretty huge. Win a title to go with that third MVP, and James’ stock goes way, way up. And Kentucky’s hype right along with it.
3. Parallel Programs
Like it or not, Kentucky is to the NCAA what Miami is to the NBA. Not in their tradition, maybe, but as far as the current state of the programs go, they’re pretty similar. Both the Heat and the Wildcats operate by the simple strategy of saturating their team with the most talent possible, and both teams have become a sort of “league villain” to those who aren’t capable of following that example. There are some who think it’s unfair (“LeBron betrayed Cleveland!”), and some that think it’s unbecoming (“One-and-dones are ruining college ball!”), but these are two teams working within the parameters with the simple goal of getting the best players possible. Those who belittle that strategy are likely jealous, and will have little to say if both teams win championships this year. Personally, I love the “anti-hero” role, and the trendsetting methods that the programs have established put them both in that category. Neither team does anything wrong, but they do things differently, and that makes a few (small-minded) people upset. Rooting for Miami as a like-minded franchise, to me, only makes sense.
Regardless of your pick for favorite NBA team, now is the time to be watching. The playoffs can drag on for a while, but the heat really starts to turn up in the conference semi-final round (see what I did there?) and things get pretty exciting. Maybe you’ll join me in the “Team Miami” Camp, and maybe you won’t. Either way is fine. But with no college basketball on, I guess we’ll have to make do with the NBA. Enjoy it while you can.