Sure, the idea of rooting for LeBron James and his pals to win an NBA title is like cheering for the Yankees or the Cowboys. But it beats the alternative — an NBA championship for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Never thought I could root for this team.
Not after the way it was built from the ashes of another city’s heartbreak, bought and paid for in a transaction that showed NBA jerseys are more like laundry than civic symbols.
But years have passed, circumstances changed and as the NBA Finals begin Tuesday in Oklahoma City, I can honestly say that my rooting interest shocks me.
Go get ’em, LeBron James. Win one of those multiple titles you talked about after deciding to take your talents to South Beach to play for the Heat.
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What? You thought I was going to say the Thunder?
Not bloody likely. Not this year. Not ever. At least not unless Seattle gets another NBA franchise only to lose it in an even more cynical fashion to an ownership group that includes a moneyman even more contemptible than Aubrey McClendon.
My favorite team in this year’s NBA playoffs has been anyone playing the Thunder, but even that doesn’t quite capture the emotional desperation of my fear that the franchise formerly known as the Sonics is going to win the title this year.
So now I’m a Heat fan, which gives me only slightly less tenure than some of the other passengers on the bandwagon of a Miami team that was seemingly assembled with the objective of giving all those fairweather Yankees-Cowboys front-runners an NBA squad they could cheer for, too.
It was only two years ago that James not only spurned the Cavaliers franchise in his home state on national television, but he did it to join up with his buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on a team high in glamour and short on history.
In a sport where the best players are defined by their alpha-dog status, James had gone to another superstar’s team. He tried to take a shortcut to a title by reincarnating the Super Friends, which is why I was so thrilled when Miami lost to Dallas in last year’s NBA Finals. It showed the best team isn’t necessarily the one with the most All-Stars. Chemistry matters, role players are important and easy is a way out, not the path to a title.
Twelve months later, I couldn’t care less about all the artificial ingredients that have been superglued together in Miami because I can’t stomach the alternative that has grown organically in Oklahoma.
The Thunder is the better team. I truly believe that. It is well assembled, it is exciting and over the course of the past three rounds of the playoffs it has ousted the three franchises that have combined to win the past 13 Western Conference titles.
The run has been nothing short of incredible, which has only made it even more infuriating to watch from this corner of the country.
Does that make me small-minded? Probably. Kevin Durant and Nick Collison each played in Seattle before the franchise moved, and they’re both eminently likable and totally professional. I hope each wins an NBA title. I just hope they do it after changing teams.
This isn’t about the fans in Oklahoma City, either. They’re doing exactly what they should do, which is enjoy this championship-caliber team and encourage it with weapons-grade decibels.
The bitterness comes from the memory of how this team was sold out by its local owner and uprooted after 41 years. The exit was due to arena economics, not fan apathy, and it’s impossible for me to watch the Thunder play in Oklahoma City without thinking, “That could/should/would be happening here.”
And because it’s not, I don’t want it happening there. I know this makes me like the kid who lost his toy and now doesn’t want anyone else enjoying it either, but that self-awareness hasn’t changed the fact that I want the Thunder to lose more than I’ve wanted anyone to win in these playoffs.
This reality has made for odd bedfellows. I have rooted for Kobe Bryant, who I find as unlikable as any NBA player in the past 20 years. I have cheered for the San Antonio Spurs, whose penchant for flopping and propensity for whining embodies two of the things I like least about the way the pro game is currently played.
And now I’ll cheer for LeBron James, not so much because I want him to win a championship but because of the team I absolutely don’t want to win it.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dannyoneil.