LeBron James of the Miami Heat is blocked by Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks during game five of the NBA finals in Dallas. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty


Choosing a team to root for in this year's NBA finals has been like deciding whether to let your daughter marry Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Seriously, what do you do if you can't stand the Heat – or the Mavericks?

Consider Miami: the team's schadenfreude-ometer has been registering radioactive levels since last July, when LeBron James announced his decision to take his talents to South Beach.

In one of the most unctuous hours in television history, James was not only ungrateful in spurning his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, but he also managed to insult New York and Chicago, with whom he had been flirting.

As far as those three cities are concerned, there's a middle seat waiting in the Ninth Circle of Hell for "The Whore of Akron" (as Esquire writer Scott Raab has dubbed him) – right between Judas and Brutus.

As the season unfolded, it looked as if James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were a team of simony – sorry, destiny – but the pressure was clearly getting to them.

After a one-point loss to the Chicago Bulls, King James and his court were reportedly crying in their locker room.


With a 43-20 record?

Even LBJ's old team, the Cavaliers, didn't get weepy this season, and they went on a 26-game losing streak, tied for the worst ever in American sports history.

But then you have the Dallas Mavericks, a team who look at the NBA's salary cap the same way Suri Cruise sees a shoe sale.

In the past decade, the Mavs have spent $851m on players – nearly a quarter-billion more than the Heat – but they still don't have a championship to show for it.

Naturally that drought doesn't sit well with Dallas's eternally adolescent owner, Mark Cuban.

The 52-year-old billionaire, who often makes Donald Trump seem shy, is at once the best and worst thing to happen to the NBA.

While his on-court cheerleading is undoubtedly infectious – he's not just the owner, he's a fan! – Cuban's diatribes against the league and its officials have cost him nearly $2m in fines over the years – including $250,000 after game five of the 2006 NBA finals against Miami. (Petulant show-off that he is, Cuban matches each fine with a donation to charity.)

But here's the funny thing: during this year's finals, Cuban has been silent.

Either the NBA commissioner David Stern finally found a diplomatic solution to the Cuban Whistle Crisis, or Cuban himself wisely found the mute button and decided to let his team's play speak for itself.

And it's working.

The ancient Mavericks, led by their 32-year-old warrior Dirk Nowitzki (who has played with a torn tendon in his left hand and despite a triple-digit fever in game four) now have a 3-2 lead over the Heat as the series heads back to Miami this weekend.

Dallas's aggressive defense and rainbow three-pointers have so utterly confounded the South Beach Cerberus of James, Wade and Bosh that LeBron looks like a lost puppy on the court.

After calling game five "the biggest of my life," James actually stepped up – particularly since Wade was hobbled with a hip injury in the first quarter – and managed a triple double.

But when the game was on the line, LBJ once again entered the Witness Protection Program.

In the fourth quarter, he scored a whopping two points, bringing his final-quarter total in the series up to an astronomical eleven.

All of which has considerably diluted the Haterade that fans were drinking a week ago.

The Mavericks without The Cuban Show are actually a likeable team of old-timers who deserve a champagne shampoo.

And now that the Chosen One has become the Frozen One, cheering for the Heat almost feels like charity.


Either way, if they do win the title, it won't be because of LeBron.

And that's a crying shame.

The last two games of the NBA season are to be played in Miami on Sunday and Tuesday (if a game seven is required).


Michael Solomon is the executive editor of Byliner and a former editor at The Daily Beast and ESPN Books.

Add comment

Security code

Latest comments