Walt Frazier is such a cold dude. Recently, he probably looked around, fondled his tailored suit, twinkled his toes in his alligator boots and came to a very ordinary conclusion: “This Heat squad just ain’t that good.” Or, knowing Clyde, maybe it was more like, “Why am I the only one cogent enough to remain impervious to the subterfuge of this dubious Heat streak?”
Earlier this week, Clyde went on The Michael Kay Show and had this to say about Miami’s win streak (now 27 and counting):
“I think they’re the best team in the NBA, but I wouldn’t call them a great team. I wouldn’t rank them anywhere near the top 10 best teams ever. It’s more an indication of how weak the NBA is right now than their superiority.”
That’s not shade, either. Clyde’s Knicks won two titles (1970, 1973) and appeared in another (1972). Each time, they faced the Lakers. That ’72 Lakers squad that sent Clyde’s Knicks home for the summer was also the squad responsible for the record the Heat are chasing. Clyde knows juggernauts. So it matters that he looks at this current Miami squad and smirks.
“When we [the Knicks] were the first team in 1969-70 to win 18 consecutive games,” Clyde continued. “The starting five was on the bench in the fourth quarter. I mean, we were blowing teams out. Miami is not blowing teams out; they’re making miraculous comebacks.”
As much as Clyde is making this about Miami’s actual competitive worthiness to be considered an all-time great outfit, I have a hunch that, ultimately, it comes down to optics. The Heat behave like a bunch of clowns. Imagine a President racking up policy wins, but strutting around 1600 Penn acting like Kevin Hart. The Heat don’t behave like a “team on a mission,” which makes it hard to take them seriously…until you watch them put team after team in the trick bag. They are a new paradigm, in so many ways.
One of my favorite pieces that we’ve run on TSL, so far, has been Sandy Dover’s essay on the Heat and “black excellence.” Sandy made the prescient and perceptive point that one of the reasons the Heat are changing pop culture and sports is because they are a team led by the players and not an aristocrat coach. Erik Spoelstra plays the background, while LeBron’s virtuosity and his crew’s collective excellence are out front running things. Maybe the only other squad in recent memory to excel on this level, without a Hall of Fame coach, was Larry Bird’s Celtics. So many of those accolades went to Bird & Co. that you almost forget K.C. Jones stood on the sidelines and occasionally, called plays. Notice the racial makeup, though. Miami is different. As Sandy wrote:
“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 perhaps some people watch Heat games or analyze the streak and ask themselves, “How can this truly be an all-time great squad, if the inmates are running the asylum?” But I’m guessing that more people question the Heat’s all-time great bona fides because, during this streak, they’re making Baauer Shake videos, video-bombing each other and conducting tongue-in-cheek post-game interviews with one another.
One of my first random sports memories is footage of a scowling Magic Johnson stepping off a team bus in Boston during the 1987 Finals. Magic, as we all know, was famous for his smile; but, on this day, he sported a facial expression that was serious as cancer. I remember my Pops saying, “Magic ain’t playing around.” He went on to explain to me that sometimes a man has to get serious and mean to meet a tough challenge. After getting ousted by the Rockets in Western Conference Finals the season before – a season in which Bird’s Celtics, the eventual champions, reached their competitive apex – Magic wasn’t about playing games in the 1986-87 season. He was about a ring.
There’s a frivolity associated with these Heat – that they themselves promote, really – that’s plain disassociated with competitive greatness. So you’d have to be an idiot to think someone like Walt “Clyde” Frazier would look at this jocular bunch and conclude that they could mess with Jordan’s Bulls or Magic’s Lakers or even his Knicks and Wilt/West’s Lakers.
It’s not the Heat’s fault, however, that they can get away with this. Somewhere, some of these supposed elite teams need to get their ish together and send a message. That message being, “You’re not just going to raze through the league and do so acting like a mixture of Mike Epps and Stifler.” Maybe this will happen Sunday when Miami goes to San Antonio to face the sober Spurs. Or it would really be poetic if Clyde’s Knicks put an end to the streak in the Garden next Tuesday.
Probably won’t happen. Perhaps the chief take away from this Heat Experiment will be that these dudes defiantly won doing things their way. It’s us, the eyewitnesses, that need to catch up. We could be looking at one of the greatest teams of all time and not even notice, because we’re too caught up in Chris Bosh doing the robot.