I’m from Boston, and that means certain things. Per my citizenship, I deem “r’s” optional, I drink Sam Adams, and I follow our sports with the spoiled love of our recent success and the ever-ready pessimism brought on by the lean, pre-pink-hat years.
And in Boston, we love our teams by hating yours.
See, we loved the Red Sox, but we hated the Yankees just as much. In those old days, before pink hats and championship banners, the Red Sox were good, sure, but you took them with a fragile hope. Red Sox win could be luck, or a fluke, after all. A Red Sox win was just sports, but a Yankee loss was an affirmation of some vague, beautiful notion that you needed more than money.
My Dad would mention the Red Sox score to me in the morning, if the game went late. But if the Yankees lost, he’d make fruit salad and point to it, with one of the nearly infinite pens he kept around the house.
“See?” he’d say, pointing past the Red Sox, past even our win column to the Yankee’s recent loss. “We’re catching up” he’d say. “In the all important loss column.”
Winning was one thing. The Yankees losing was yet another.
Similarly, we were raised on our hate of the Lakers. Central to each of these teams, though, were their iconic superstars. Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant defined the sport at that time, and each represented something Boston desperately wanted and lacked. Jeter and Bryant were big city glitz- New York, Los Angeles- and each excluded Boston, lonely Boston, with title after title. In our ego, we felt mocked by each win they had, as though they were taken from us personally.
Still, as we hated them, a begrudging respect emerged. Each of them were amazing players. Not just in the numbers they produced, but the grace and grit with which they produced them. Kobe, bouncing back from injuries, was a furious flurry on the court and Jeter, despite what Sabermetrics will tell you, could dive and flip, throwing across his body to jusssst get you. Jeter may have made easy plays look hard, but it was mesmerizing, and watching, it seemed like the theatrics was just a little New York flourish of his. Of course he was going to get you; he just wanted it to look good.
They were villains that Boston adored, and with our teams as near equals to theirs, the struggle was beautifully real to us. Jeter and Kobe could be counted on like Varitek or Paul Pierce. And, in a very real way, Jeter and Kobe are near-equal parts of Boston’s history. Hate, after all, is merely love in reverse.
If Jeter and Kobe belong to one generation, Lebron and A-Rod belonged to the next and they, like many sequels, were missing the soul of the original.
To be fair, why did they need it? If Jeter was super-human, A-Rod was a super-freak: the super was enhanced, certainly, but the human was discarded without a second thought. LeBron, meanwhile, is pharmaceutically clean but is likewise a parody of the human body. Kobe is 6’3, fighting injuries, and he played with grit; as he aged, he replaced speed with knowledge, stamina with precision, and each time he clawed back from injury it was another testament to the fury inside him. LeBron, meanwhile, is solid. He has no weakness in size, age, or injury.
Kobe is the NBA. LeBron is NBA Jam.
Now here’s the thing. Of course I hate LeBron. I’m a Boston born Boston fan; it’s in our contract. But more than that, I hate how I hate him. Kobe Bryant was a snarling, dedicated talent on the court. He’d bark and we’d bark back and we’d battle. And, like all battles, it was intense, gritty, and unpredictable. Anything could happen, and anything did. We split our most recent championships one to one.
Like all good clashes, we ended as equals.
Now what? LeBron James and his super-friends team is put together like a Fantasy draft. In three years, just look at the cities they robbed. I understand free agency, but feel what each player meant to the city they left. They took LeBron from Cleveland, which needs no explination, but remember they took Chris Bosh, formerly the Raptor’s only hope for relevance, from Toronto, and look who else? Greg Oden, Portland’s hope, is riding their bench. Chris Anderson, aka Birdman, Denver weirdo, has signed his soul over to the Heat. And, most painful of all, Ray Allen, Judas Shuttleworth himself, left Boston overseas to play for the enemy.
I mean, just look at the names and cities Miami sucked to their swamp. Understand the local treasures they pillaged to feed their trophy-lust, all in three years. That’s not a team up there; that’s a Fantasy draft.
When you build a team of mercenaries, your fans follow suit. The subtleties and earned nuance of the old hates are gone, replaced instead with a lame, petty disgust and jealousy.
I leave you with one final image, one recently formed in the wake of consecutive Heat titles, at a point where even I couldn’t boo Lebron. It was a Golden State and Heat game, and I was watching it with my friend Nathan, who, from the Bay Area, gave me a valid excuse to openly seethe my hate again at the Heat, and, in that moment, I found something worse than hate.
I felt nothing.
The Heat were no longer a team worthy of my scorn. They weren’t even a team. They were an assembly of players trained and signed at below-value rates to produce a championship. They were a company on the court, and, even as Golden State pulled ahead, I saw something I never thought I’d see.
In Miami, they were booing Lebron.
He’d missed two free-throws in a spurt of bad luck, and there, in his own stadium, they booed him. Context forgotten, greatness ignored, Lebron James, so often vilified as a traitor found himself betrayed by the fickle no-nothing audience that dared called themselves fans.
It was poetic in a way. Any other team would be blessed to have Lebron, and Cleveland would have died to retain him. And yet here, in the same city which held his triumphs, he slumped his shoulders, heckled by fans undeserving of his greatness.
So now, when I say I hate the Heat, don’t confuse it with the golden rivalries of the past. The Heat fans won’t be Heat fans forever; like cockroaches, they will survive the team, only to find new glories to plunder, new teams to bandwagon and new jerseys to buy.
Just know that Boston hates you, Miami. But not in the way we like. And not for the reasons you think.