Black excellence, opulence, decadence
Tuxes next to the president, I’m present
I dress in Dries and other boutique stores in Paris …
Success never smelled so sweet
I stink of success, the new black elite
–Jay-Z, “Murder to Excellence”
The Miami Heat, 24 straight wins strong and rocking the league away like a baby. Nobody expected this kind of greatness, right? Nobody expected this kind of dope. It was readily known that South Florida would be filled to the brim with glitter and gold, but this? A new standard of excellence, made by so-called conspirators and turncoats becoming the toast of the town?
Even your wisest wise man didn’t think of this. No one is that clever.
Let’s establish the history real quick – there have only been four teams to mount the kind of winning status that the Heat have achieved in the present time. The Milwaukee Bucks of the 1970-71 season, with 20 wins and an eventual NBA championship of the same year (with the young Lew Alcindor); the Houston Rockets of the 2007-08 season, that went without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady for much of their 22-game streak; the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1971-72 season, with 33 wins and a corresponding NBA title as well; and the Heat of Miami, featuring The Lion King James.
Fact: The Miami Heat of 2012-13 have already become one of the greatest teams of all time, historically. There are still games to be won, playoffs to fight through, and a title to win or lose, but the numbers don’t lie.
It doesn’t hurt the Heat that owning the NBA's second longest winning streak in NBA history corresponds with their own cultural revolution. Thick-rimmed glasses, skinny pants and vests, designer loafers, backpacks and corked-up sneakers are as much the standard for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh as caesars and beards have been.
They’re the Fab Five 2.0; hated for being themselves and later beloved for being one-of-a-kind; but they don’t have the same kinds of chips on their shoulders like those guys from U of M. They’re much more Fab 5 Freddy – funky, goofy, loquacious at times, candid, unabashedly full of youth, and unmistakably talented.
Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski details the direction of the Heat, using the voice of one of their own to make apparent what the world is discovering on its own:
Miami's Shane Battier sits in this locker room and swears he never needed the passing of time, nor the context of playing for a champion, to understand how downright dumbfounding of an accomplishment 22 victories for him and the Chuck Hayes and Luis Scolas of the sport had been in '08.
"We knew back then that it was one of the most improbable runs in basketball history – maybe even in sports history," Battier told Yahoo! Sports. "We were journeymen, a bunch of role players. When we were healthy – with Yao and Tracy – that team was pretty good. But we could never stay healthy.
"That was our championship."
Only, this is something else with the Heat. This streak is a measuring tool on the way to consecutive titles, a way to incorporate this team with the greatest in the history of the sport. That's why this matters, and that's why James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh seem reluctant to let it perish. They were constructed to make history and this is one more way to relentlessly pursue it.
So what does it all mean beyond the wins, beyond the glory, and beyond the fanfare? It means progress.
Yeah, it’s all messed up when it’s nowhere to go
So we won’t take the time out 'til we reach the T-O-P
From parolees to hold G’s, sold keys, low keys
We like the promised land of the OG’s
In the past, if you picture events like a black tie
What the last thing you expect to see, black guys?
What’s the life expectancy for black guys?
The system’s working effectively, that’s why!
Think about excellence for a second, and ponder the Miami Heat, and specifically, the Heatles trio. Pair them up with the most dominant and historically winningest groups of winners in American sports, but particularly, in the NBA.
Red Auerbach and Bill Russell; Pat Riley, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Chuck Daly, Isiah Thomas, and Joe Dumars; Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen; Gregg Popovich, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Emanuel Ginóbili, and Tony Parker; Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol; Riley, Shaq, and Dwyane Wade.
See something interesting?
With every great grouping or dynasty, the players were largely black with all the coaches being big-personality white men (or in Auerbach’s case, an Eastern European Jew with some portion of white privilege) with unquestioned and well-documented leadership chops. Historically, in American sports, from Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson to countless football teams like the 1990s Dallas Cowboys, there is a role that has formed that has made black athletes palatable to the masses when there is a white man in charge, visible and directly affecting play, calling the shots, acting as the mastermind.
This is an observation, and not necessarily an indictment of sports culture in this context, but it is clear that the fan fallout of the Miami Heat may not have been so understandable because of the psychic power of seeing three black men affect change monumentally without the direct auspices of a white man. In the case of the Heatles, Pat Riley has fallen back into the shadows, with the archetypal white mastermind/Professor X figure in absentia, even as Riley acolyte Erik Spoelstra leads his troops.
It’s been unsettling for America to embrace these young men as masters without a color buffer, making the affecting nature of the Heat’s success even more disruptive to the culture of the American sports narrative.
So when people ask why winning 24 regular-season games in a row makes the Heat special, why it makes them hot, why it makes them dope, we can say (or at least admit to seeing) that Miami is changing culture. They are above haters. They are above the standards of old. They are above the notion of sports archetypes. They are the change that we believe in because they are the change in the flesh.
24 wins and counting. Excellence, opulence, decadence.