Shed a Tear for Machiavelli

News flash: professional athletes are spoiled. If that were the end of it, the Miami Heat would be pretty unremarkable. LeBron and Co. stand out for a different reason: they throw their temper tantrums publicly, and with seemingly little awareness of how immature that makes them.

As I watched LeBron, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and Pat Riley conspire to form the NBA’s version of Velvet Revolver last summer, my opinion swung from ire to acceptance to disinterest. Like anyone who supports professional athletes’ right to chart their own course in life, I ended up supporting LeBron’s decision, if not the Decision. (Postscript: my rooting interest in the “Decision” debacle entered a final stage that featured a strong urge to bet the under on the season win total on this overhyped Frankenstein, followed by utter dismay as the Heat stumbled out of the blocks before I ever opened up my wallet.)

But make no mistake: the Big Three charted a course that was cold, calculating, brash, and at times, nasty. The Decision speaks for itself. But the new-look Heat didn’t stop there. They followed up that PR disaster by rubbing Cleveland’s nose in it again, hosting a launch party that featured more pyrotechnics and stage antics than any concert I’ve ever seen. The Heat then stripped their roster of any talent priced at more than the league minimum, engraving the invitation to every free agent veteran to jump aboard the championship-ring gravy train before it left the station. Even with five months to reflect on their conduct, the Heat weren’t apologizing to anyone.

Fast forward to March 2011. The Heat are losing games in the fourth quarter like their Nike contracts depend on it. The Heat haven’t dropped under .500 or anything; they just hit a rough patch against quality competition.

How do they respond? This is the squad that had the proverbial basketballs to stick the knife in two cities, including one with a long history of poignant sports failures; publicize this slaughter as widely as possible; and shrug off the damage that they caused when given an opportunity to issue a public apology, thereby alienating Northern Ohio, Toronto, any sports fan who has ever watched their favorite athlete skip town, anyone ever jilted by a lover, and basically anyone with a soul. Surely the Heat would respond coolly and confidently to adversity. Even if they found it hard to summon last summer’s bravado, at the very least they would issue a polite but cocky reminder that, hey, we still think we have some talent in our locker room.

Wait, Chris Bosh was crying at the post-game presser? Alright. Athletes take losing hard. Besides, Bosh has never lost a big game, primarily because he’s never put his team in position to play one in eight years in the league.

More sobbing on camera after another loss? Okay, maybe we should check in with a playoff-tested veteran, someone with championship credentials. Dwayne?

After the Heat’s fourth-quarter meltdown against Chicago Sunday, Dwayne Wade had these choice remarks: “The Miami Heat are exactly what everyone wanted, losing games…The world is better now because the Heat is losing.”

Whether he’s mature enough to know it or not, Wade was fishing for pity. And no, Dwayne, none is forthcoming. Of course America enjoys watching you eat a little humble pie! Sure, maybe you forgive the girlfriend who tactfully explains that you two just weren’t meant for each other. But not the cold-hearted scamp who cheats on you with your best friend!

Machiavelli has left the building. No one pretends that a year in college prepares NBA superstars for weathering life’s little storms effectively. But the Heat are charting new territory in professional-athlete immaturity. These guys are wallowing in self-pity, on camera, after a handful of tough beats in the regular season.

Just as importantly, they are laying bare the chinks in the armor, for everyone to see, twenty games before the postseason starts. The Heat can build a nine-point halftime lead against a top Eastern Conference team, so they are talented enough to compete for the title. But clearly their confidence is shot. If the NBA’s sharks still remember how to respond to blood in the water (no guarantee on any given night), they’ll feed off it just like the Bulls did.

And, yeah, maybe a fan or two will enjoy watching the ship go down…

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