It is hard to overstate the effect that our sports teams have on the lives of ordinary people in Miami.
A case in point is the way our basketball franchise, and its ups and downs during the last few weeks, has filled our conversations, our electronic messages, and our mind-psyches.
The phenomenon is not limited to youngsters or to those who are particularly sports-minded. Yesterday, the mayor of Florida City (Otis Wallace) was telling me the story of an 84-year old female constituent, who is so affected by the Heat’s performances that she cannot watch the actual games. Or at least not continuously. She relies on others in the family to report back during the scoring droughts.
The same is true of my wife: She can’t stand to watch the drama as it unfolds.
Similarly for her cousin, who loves sports but cannot endure the painful low points in the Heat’s roller-coaster ride through the play-offs.
I am sure some scholars consider the emotional trauma engendered by the success of our city’s sports teams to be a sign of immaturity. After all, in sports, one team must lose and another prevail. Only one city in thirty-some that have NBA teams will be able to revel in the ultimate victory. Only one metropolis will have bragging rights for the next twelve months.
Surely, we cannot let a relatively trivial sports outcome dictate our outlook and modulate our moods.
Miami is a sophisticated city, after all. We have cultural cross-currents not experienced outside the Middle East and the coasts of the Mediterranean sea, where civilizations have been commingling for a hundred centuries.
How can we expect a frail, eighty-four year old woman and a spry seven year old boy who aspires to be the next Lebron James, to share feelings of elation or despair about something that does not impact their common human desire for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Well, the amazing thing is that they do.
We all do – with very few exceptions.
It is all the more remarkable because basketball is not the most popular sport in Miami. It’s probably football. Or baseball. Or even soccer.
And that may be precisely the reason we love to connect on the fate of our basketball franchise.
It adds to our sense of belonging to share emotions with those who don’t look like us and who don’t have our particular accent.
A similar thing happens, but on a much lesser scale, when Brazil or Argentina or Spain wins the World Cup. We rush to South Beach and find the colors of the world champ to wear or display in little flags. We, too, are Brazilians, Argentinians, and Spaniards.
But it’s not the same. In rooting for the Heat, we are all Miamians.
The national media, with a substantial assist from the local media, tends to portray us as a city plagued by many ills. A city with a low quality of life. A city that you visit in the winter, but not a city where you want to live.
But teams like the Heat dispel that notion entirely. LeBron not only wants to play in Miami with his two companions in the golden trio, but he will probably stay here after his basketball career is over, as Rony Seikaly, Alonzo Mourning, Mike Lowell, Jimmy Cefalo, Dan Marino and Don Shula have done.
Seikaly was the Heat’s first draft choice. He is part Greek and part Lebanese. He speaks a bunch of languages. He was, before being drafted by the Heat, a world citizen.
Now he is a Miamian. By choice and by affinity.
The same is true for me and my four kids and their spouses (who are Brazilian, Irish, Puerto Rican, and Cuban-Lebanese.)
Is it a coincidence that we have in Miami the two people who are the best coaches in the history of football and basketball?
That we have arguably the best trio of basketball players who ever played together in their prime?
I don’t think so.
It is what makes Miami exceptional.
And it is not a trivial quality.