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Patriots of 2007, Heat faced similar fan obstacles

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Posted June 13, 2011 @ 6:54 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

In sports, people generally pick their local team to support. If they don't have a hometown squad, some will choose a favorite player instead and be unequivocal backers of them. Either way, they are hoping for success from their side most of the time, not rooting for an opponent to lose.

There are, of course, exceptions to that. With the standings close at the end of a season, fans will hope an opposing team falls so their squad can enhance its playoff position or move closer to first place. In a heated rivalry like Ravens-Steelers, for instance, fans will always root for their archenemy to go down, no matter who the rival is squaring off against.

For the most part, however, games are played, fans root for their side and the rest of the world doesn't really blink an eye.

But it's rare for the greater majority of the sporting world to not only care about one specific team, but care enough to actively root against them. It happened over the past season with the Miami Heat, who were eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks in Game Six of the NBA Finals on Sunday night. The Heat drew much venom and dislike from fans, not because of how they played on the court but because of how they were assembled and their actions off the court. Star forward LeBron James announced on national TV last summer he was going to sign with Miami and team up with two other All-Stars, choosing to bail on his hometown team in the process. A few days later, the three high-profile players had an introductory rally in South Florida, where they talked about how many championships they would win.

As the NBA season progressed and the Heat went from inconsistent to juggernaut. The team celebrated a win in the second round of the playoffs the way most would react to a championship, which was interpreted by many as the Heat assuming their road to a ring would be as relaxing as a cruise down South Beach. Then, despite building a 2-1 lead in the Finals, Miami collapsed. James shrunk in the spotlight in the fourth quarter of the most important games of the season, and the Heat was left watching as the Mavericks — and all of the Heat's detractors — celebrated after defeating Miami in three consecutive games.

The only other example, in recent memory, of that type of rooting to lose took place in February 2008, when the Giants and Patriots played in Super Bowl XLII. Outside of New England, nearly every football fan was rooting for the Giants to win — the Patriots had won every game they had played that season, but they had failed to win over Americans.

Unlike the Heat, who did so much showboating off the court, the Pats were made the enemy by so many people because of their swagger between the white lines. New England showed no mercy on opponents that season, winning games by an absurd amount of points. They beat the Bills by 31 in Week Three, they trashed the Redskins, winning by 45 in Week Eight and abused the Bills again with a 46-point blowout in Week 11. In their 18 victories that season, only four were decided by eight points or less. Fans like great play, but running up the score is frowned upon by most.

In addition, the cloud of Spygate hovered over the team. Not much angers neutral fans more than a good team looking for an illegal advantage, which is exactly what the Patriots did. People without a rooting interest often took a moral stance against New England that season.

Of course, the Patriots met their fate, just like the Heat did. The Giants shocked New England in the Super Bowl, winning 17-14. Head coach Bill Belichick left the field without shaking his victorious opponents' hand, failing to show good sportsmanship in defeat. The top story the next day wasn't that the Giants had won, but that the mighty Patriots had lost. 

Yet, not long after the Giants were crowned that night in Arizona, most people couldn't have cared less about what the Patriots did; they were just another team. Fans have short-term memories. It was just that one season, and really that one game, where a nation was seemingly rooting for New England to lose.

Who knows if that's what will happen to James and the Heat. It takes a lot to get sports fans to move on from supporting their favorite teams and players and choose instead to root against a specific squad. It happens only once in a while, so, Heat-haters, enjoy it while it lasts.

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