I’ve noticed quite a few Miami Heat jerseys on white kids from South Dakota lately – besides Mike Miller, that is. (Mitchell in the house. Corn Palace, yo.)
And that got me to wondering: Why?
The easy answer is that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are two of the best players and most impressive specimens in the NBA. Makes sense. But what if it’s more than that?
For example, I remember having two replica and one authentic basketball jerseys as a kid/teenager: Charles Barkley (the Suns version), Allen Iverson (the Georgetown version) and Maurice Taylor (the Michigan version). None of those purchases were by chance. I respected the hell out of Barkley and Iverson, even though I was nothing like them. Bought their shoes, too. As for Taylor, that was motivated by a sale at a local sporting goods store, but the Fab Five were the reason that I liked Michigan, and that, too, was motivated by the things they seemed to stand for: youth, toughness and swagger.
So it seems at least possible that today’s kids have become Heat fans in part because of The Decision and its implications. That is, maybe they like the idea of a super team, joining forces with other talented friends to achieve a common goal. Doesn’t sound so bad when put that way, right? It’s just that some other aspects of the situation – and what we take it to stand for – aren’t so sterling.
What if this is a symptom of kids going soft? That they’re unwilling to go it alone, to bear all the bulk of the responsibility for success or failure? This coming from the parent of an 8-year-old who isn’t as tough as her dad, who isn’t as tough as his dad and so on through generations.
What if they’re attracted to the idea of holding a preseason victory party and announcing to the world that they’re going to win, “not four, not five, not six …” titles? What if they’re afraid to truly compete, choosing friendship over the pursuit of their individual best? Then again, you could argue some of my sports idols, including the Fab Five, had similar tendencies.
Maybe they’ve simply fallen prey to exceptional advertising by Nike and Gatorade and the NBA itself. While that’s not inherently bad, slick sales pitches place considerable power in the hands of modern day Mad Men, especially as media bombardment grows and parental influence (arguably) wanes.
To that end … maybe none of this matters? I guarantee the Greatest Generation thinks today’s young adults are doing it all wrong, that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I’m not sure if that’s true (and have never used a handbasket). Is America “underachieving”? Probably. Is that putting us in any sort of grave danger? Perhaps, but not necessarily.
Could I squeeze in a few more wishy washy descriptors? That remains to be seen. All joking aside, there’s nothing “wrong” with kids (or adults) digging the Heat – they’re no more worthy or unworthy of unrealistic adoration than any other pro athletes or regular people. But it’s not a bad idea regardless of age to put some thought into why we like or dislike things, teams or people even if the deciding quality is no deeper than general awesomeness.