Heat's success bodes well for the Phillies

LeBron James and the Heat had a rough start, but they are in the NBA Finals.
LeBron James and the Heat had a rough start, but they are in the NBA Finals. (AL DIAZ / Miami Herald)
Posted: May 29, 2011

There is no way to discuss this Miami Heat thing rationally. There's the group that was appalled by LeBron James' televised ego-drama and that whole flashpots-and-smoke travesty of a pep rally, and there are those who ignore all that and simply enjoy watching James play basketball.

We are not interested in finding common ground between these two warring camps. Nor are we interested in committing another chunk of newsprint and Internet space to mocking The Decision or mocking the mockers of The Decision. That particular vein has been strip-mined of every last nugget - and beyond, frankly.

We're here to tell you that the Heat's smooth run through the Eastern Conference playoffs and into the NBA Finals - whatever your thoughts on LeBron and Jim Gray - is a positive omen for the team from Philadelphia. And no, not the Sixers.

The Phillies weren't as tacky about it, but they came as close as anyone in sports to doing what the Heat did last offseason. In short, they took advantage of a unique set of circumstances to assemble a ludicrous amount of talent in one place. They instantly made themselves prohibitive favorites to dominate their regular season, and created the pressure-packed expectation that only a championship would count as a successful year.

There are obvious differences. Aside from using a round ball, the two sports are nothing alike. And James' abandonment of Cleveland was viewed as an act of betrayal by that city and many others, while Cliff Lee had been with the Texas Rangers for only a few months.

The similarities are less obvious but deeper. Both men could have gone to New York and played in the media capital of the known universe. Both chose a place they felt they'd be happier and have a better chance to win a championship. And both decisions resulted in concentrations of star power that had fans salivating, opponents griping, and commentators reaching back into history to find precedents.

All that was left was, you know, actually suiting up and playing.

That's where the Heat's rise to the top holds meaning for the Phillies and their fans. It wasn't a smooth ride. Early in the season, as James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh figured out how to play together, it was hard not to enjoy their struggles. Hubris is not an endearing quality. It looked for a while as if coach Erik Spoelstra, hired apparently because he fit the suit, would be the fall guy. Come to think of it, that may be the real reason he was hired in the first place.

Similarly, the Phillies have not had the easy road many predicted for them. Starting with Clearwater injuries to Chase Utley and Brad Lidge and Domonic Brown, they've had the kind of luck that sinks even the most talented teams. Manager Charlie Manuel has had his toughest challenge, writing out lineups with minor-league strivers and big-league slumpers.

That daily chore has usually ended with the privilege of writing one of these names in the No. 9 spot: Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, or Cole Hamels. The Phillies entered the Memorial Day weekend with the best record in the National League because, as it turns out, having the better pitcher almost every day really is a big advantage.

Just as having the two or three best players on the court turns out to be a pretty big advantage in basketball.

The Phillies have a long, long way to go, of course. A lot is going to happen over the next four months. They are beginning to get players back, but another run of injuries could derail them. Continued offensive woes could force general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to make a deadline trade that weakens the pitching.

Unlike James, Wade, and Bosh, the Phillies aces can't take over the game at the offensive end when necessary. Again: very different sports.

But there is undeniable power in having proven, elite performers who are driven only by the desire for a championship. James - and therefore Bosh - saw uniting with Wade as the best way to win it all. Lee saw pitching in a rotation with Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt as his best chance to win a World Series after two years on the losing side.

Lee didn't take up an hour of ESPN time to announce his choice. The news broke late on an otherwise quiet evening. And the starting rotation's news conference in spring training may have chapped some baseball purists, but it was downright understated compared to the Heat's introductory bash.

Ultimately, Lee's decision and James' Decision created massive expectations for their new teams. The Heat are showing how to overcome enormous hype and deliver on those expectations. For everyone else, it is like watching the bully win.

And that is exactly what Phillies fans hope to see in October.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2864, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster.

Read his past columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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