When a team from Boston is eliminated one step short of a title shot whether its in the AFC Championship, the ALCS, either of the Eastern Conference Finals or whatever they call it in the MLS fans of the recently deceased are typically left with three options for viewing the final round of action:
1. Tune it out: In this scenario, it just hurts too much. Knowing how close your team came, how little anyone else cares and that if it wasnt for two or three bad bounces, your boys would be on this amazing stage, with a serious shot at glory. So you dont watch the Finals. You dont read about the Finals. If youre watching SportsCenter and theres coverage of the Finals, you quickly reach for the remote. If the remote is nowhere to be found, you reach for the nearest blunt object and bludgeon yourself into a deep, deep sleep.
2. Believing in the Best: This is the rarest of the three, but every once in a while youll come across a fan who roots for the team that beat Boston. Who would rather fall to the eventual champ than to an also-ran. Hey, if were going to lose, at least we lost to the best! A slight variation is the fan who remains steadfastly loyal to a particular conference. Who will always root for the AFC or the American League, regardless of the misery this particular AFC or AL team brought to Boston. I never really got these people, but they exist.
3. Death to Rivals: Ahh, now youre speaking my language. You root like hell against the team that beat you. You want nothing more than for them and their fans to feel your pain. This is the most vengeful option on the table, but if you can stomach it, its also the most fun. It makes you feel the most alive. Its the closest you can get to how things were in the round before, when everything meant so much.
And with the NBA Finals set to tip off tonight in Oklahoma City, theres little doubt as to where Celtics fans stand. Actually, thats not true. Maybe there are a few folks who will choose Option 1: Fans who would prefer any amount of physical pain to the sight of LeBron James peacefully reading in the pre-game locker room, or the sound of Mike Breen climaxing after every Miami alley-oop. But I think most of us are sitting firmly at No. 3: Death to the Heat!
Of course, it helps that OKC is led by the most likable superstar in the game, and features Celtics emeritus Kendrick Perkins in the starting line-up. But at this point, regardless of opponent, Im not sure theres anything of greater importance in the Boston sports world than keeping this title away from Miami.
Part of that is the mental aspect, a result of all the pain they've inflicted on us over the past two years. But just as important as the past, is what a Heat win would mean for the future.
Lets be honest: Once Miami wins that first ring, its going to get ugly. Once LeBron gets the mental monkey off his back, once he, Wade and Bosh prove all the doubters wrong and have reason to trust and believe in their coach; once the rest of the league and all its impending free agents realize that the Heat have finally figured it out and that theres no better route to a ring than by jumping on the Miami bandwagon (and doing so at bargain prices), our nightmares will come true. The NBA will belong to Miami and jokes about LeBrons Not one, not two, not three will turn into depressing reminders of the NBA's inevitable future. OK, maybe I'm overstating things a little, but not by much. I don't think anyone will be surprised if winning that first title sets off a switch in LeBron James' head that will make life impossible for the rest of the NBA for a long, long time.
But what it they lose? Ah yes. What if they lose?
If Miami loses, stuff gets real. They're back in that same helpless place. Another lost opportunity. Another failed season. More pressure on LeBron. More questions about Spoelstra. If Miami loses, the inevitable dynasty may cease to exist. There's a good chance we see a South Beach shake up. Maybe Erik Spoelstra's shown the door. Maybe they trade Dwyane Wade. Maybe LeBron freaks out and plays out next season as the starting leftfielder for the AA Jacksonville Suns. Anything can happen. But most certainly, the Heat will enter next season as they did this one with more questions than answers. With more doubters than believers. The monkey on LeBron's back will now be a 300-pound gorilla and the Eastern Conference will be up for grabs.
I don't know about you. But I like that second scenario much better than the first. It's just another reason to hitch our wagons to the OKC Express and root against Miami with all the passion of the last two weeks.
Naturally, that passion is not without consequence. You root against the Heat, and you open yourself up to that all-to-familiar pain. To watching helplessly as Wade and James reach new height, to the tune of Mike Breen's screeching support. We know it all to well. We don't want to feel it again.
We need this, Oklahoma City. Almost as much as you do.