The 2012 NBA Finals have been cast as a battle between good and evil.The Oklahoma City Thunder represent the hard-working team that evolves organically and “does things the right way,”
And the Miami Heat represent all that is wrong with the NBA.
But this isn’t really a case of good vs. evil. It’s a case of two teams that were built in radically different ways.
And the fact that we equate the Heat with evil and the Thunder with good reveals one big truth: sports fans and media hate it when a player chooses where he plays, and love it when a player has no choice over where he plays.
Let’s go through how each team originally acquired each player that could play a role in the NBA Finals.
The Miami Heat have stocked the roster with players signed via free agency, meaning the Heat had to give nothing up to acquire the players:
- Signed undrafted free agent Udonis Haslem in 2002
- Drafted Dwyane Wade in 2003, re-signed in 2010
- Traded for the draft rights of Mario Chalmers in 2008
- Signed free agent Joel Anthony in 2009
- Signed free agent James Jones in 2008, re-signed in 2010
- Signed free agent Chris Bosh in 2010
- Acquired free agent LeBron James in a sign-and-trade in 2010
- Signed free agent Mike Miller in 2010
- Drafted Norris Cole in 2011
- Signed free agent Shane Battier in 2011
- Signed free agent Ronny Turiaf in 2012
To acquire all the the above players, the Heat gave up a grand total of two draft picks — to the Cleveland Cavaliers for LeBron James — which is a pretty savvy way to build a team.
It should be noted that prior to the arrival of Bosh and James, Miami was terrible (149-179 from the 2006-07 season to the 2009-10 season). So, naturally, the Heat front office made the necessary moves to improve a struggling team.
Now let’s take a look at Oklahoma City:
- Drafted Nick Collison in 2003
- Drafted Kevin Durant in 2007
- Drafted Russell Westbrook in 2008
- Drafted Serge Ibaka in 2008
- Traded for Thabo Sefolosha in 2009
- Drafted James Harden in 2009
- Traded for Daequan Cook in 2010
- Traded for Kendrick Perkins in 2011
- Traded for Nazr Mohammed in 2011
- Signed free agent Derek Fisher in 2012
The Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder endured a long stretch of terrible records and were rewarded with very high draft picks, enabling the franchise to select top-5 picks Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in consecutive years. Ibaka, a late first round pick, has proven to be a great find as well.
From there, the Thunder shed most of the players that had moved over from Seattle, leaving just Collison and Durant, and retooled the team through trades.
So basically, two teams were struggling. One franchise chose to build through the draft and the trade market, and the other chose to build through the open market of free agency.
But in the public consciousness, the Heat are evil and did things the “wrong way,” while the Thunder are good and did things the “right way.”
Writers and fans simply approve when a player has absolutely no choice over where he can play — like the Oklahoma City players dealt through trades — and disapprove when a player has a choice in which uniform he puts on.
The criticism of the Heat “model” for winning reveals that sports fans simply don’t want athletes to have any power over the course of their careers.
Fans value athletes who want to win games above all else, but balk at the prospect of a player like Chris Bosh leaving a franchise entrenched in losing, the Raptors, for the chance to win games in Miami.
So is America’s problem really with the Miami Heat, or with free agency in general?
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