As anyone who has ever read my work before knows, I'm pretty obsessed with fan culture. Sports is a place where it is normal, accepted, encouraged to be loud and emotional and release one's self from the shackles of normal social behavior. It is a place to cut loose. It is a place where we are truly human.
It is also a place, apparently, to escape so you can beat traffic.
Last night's Game 6 of the NBA Finals was one of the great Game 6s in the history of sports, up there with the 1986 World Series, the 2011 World Series, the 1980 Finals, the 1998 Finals. It was a game that no one who watched it is likely to forget anytime soon. And it's a game that people couldn't wait to leave.
In the annals of fan history, I'm not sure the city of Miami and its fanbase are ever going to overcome what happened last night. They probably don't deserve to.
May I remind you that this was Game 6 of the NBA Finals, and this was still a two-possession game with under a minute to play. But that's not the worst. The worst was what happened once the Heat tied it up and sent the game to overtime.
WPLG Local 10 reporter Victor Oquendo had the unfortunate assignment last night of doing a postgame report from outside American Airlines Arena, which meant that he was stuck outside for the end of the game. Then the story landed in his lap. As fans realized, once they had exited the arena, that the Heat had pulled off a comeback, they started banging on the doors to be allowed back in. Oquendo, a lifelong Miami resident and avowed defender of the oft-mocked fanbase, chronicled the madness, noting that people were screaming that they paid good money for the game they just left. Eventually the police had to be called. Deadspin has an excellent roundup of all the lunacy.
Obviously, there were many Miami fans, diehards, who didn't bail early last night. You could hear them after Ray Allen's shot. But some estimates had as many as 2,000 empty seats in overtime. Dan LeBatard, who knows Miami sports better than anyone, said he was "honestly embarrassed for this city."
This is going to be what people talk about any time they talk about Miami sports, almost certainly forever. I'm trying to think of any other city this might have happened in. Fans are renowned for leaving games early in Los Angeles, say, but this would have never happened at a Lakers game. Traffic in Atlanta is certainly worse than it is in Miami, but there hasn't been an incident like this there either. I've honestly never seen anything like it.
I wonder if this, at the core of it, is one of the main reasons LeBron James still gets no quarter from fans and the media. It's not just that he left Cleveland, a city with as passionate a fanbase as any in the country -- it's that he went to Miami. I've always wondered if people would have been as angry had he chosen New York, which was his third option. I bet they wouldn't have been. As much as people love to hate the Knicks, no one denies that Knicks fans are as devoted to their team as any fans in any sport; they were filling Madison Square Garden every night even during the Isiah years. LeBron would have been choosing a team, and a city, that would have adored him. (This applies to one-time LeBron suitor Chicago as well.)
But he chose Miami, and by doing so, he seemed to be saying, "obviously, fans have nothing to do with this decision." Now, it's not any athlete's responsibility to choose where they play -- in those rare moments when they actually get to choose -- because of the team's fans; it's not like they would be interacting all that often anyway. But by choosing Miami, specifically, it signaled that was something he hadn't even considered, something that had never entered his mind.
I think it made it harder for him; Miami's reputation was that bad. (It also didn't help that he didn't even say "Miami." He said "South Beach.") And last night it got worse. Last night it probably became irreversible. I feel bad for real Heat fans, the diehards, because no one will ever believe they're true fans, ever again.
This is what Miami, as a sports town, is going to be remembered for. It's enough to make you wish they could play Game Seven at a neutral location. Is the Garden open?