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NBC 6's Steve Litz and Ari Odzer talk to fans outside the AmericanAirlines Arena after the Miami Heat beat the Thunder, becoming the 2012 NBA champions.
Unless you've just awakened from a coma, you are certainly aware of our local team's dramatic win Thursday night, silencing the thunder of Oklahoma City in front of a maniacal, electric crowd inside the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Heat are Miami's Ultimate Champions
Much has been said and written about the Heat's star player, LeBron James, defying a torrent of criticism to lead his team to the title. The pressure on James to deliver victory, after failing in last year's finals against Dallas, was immense.
So winning the championship four games to one over a favored opponent was equal parts vindication, validation, and catharsis. Never again would anyone be able to say James didn't have a champion's mentality, or that the experiment of bringing James together with superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could not work, or that the Heat's role players weren't good enough, or that coach Eric Spoelstra was in over his head.
If Mick Jagger was a Heat fan, he'd be getting plenty of satisfaction right now. Ask any Heat fan how this championship feels, and I'll bet the overwhelming response is "satisfying." On many levels, for many reasons, beginning with the fact that the entire nation has seemed to be rooting against Miami for the past two seasons.
In some arenas, LeBron James is booed every time he touches the ball. The animus, the hatred directed at a player who embodies excellence on the court, who never gets into trouble off the court, who does a ton of charity work, is stunning.
Last year, the sports world rejoiced when the Dallas Mavericks beat Miami in the finals. This year, the nation's sports fans outside of South Florida are in mourning. I suspect, in an opinion widely shared among sports writers, that most of it is due simply to jealousy: not only do we have the best player and the best team in basketball, we also live in South Florida instead of some frozen, rusty, industrial backwater like, say, Cleveland.
By winning this championship, Heat fans are finally able to thumb their noses at all the Heat haters. The monkey is not only off LeBron's back, it's also gone from the backs of everyone who defends the Heat on Twitter and on the national sports talk shows. The weight has been lifted from the shoulders of South Florida in general.
Here's another reason why this title feels so good: the collective angst of Heat fans is now officially gone. For two seasons, the team has played under a crushing amount of pressure generated not just by the national media but also by the local fan base. Every loss is greeted by hysteria on sports talk radio: Fire the coach! Trade Wade! Bosh isn't tough enough!
The problem with having three great players is everyone expects easy victories. It often looked to Heat fans during the season that their team had insurmountable problems. Obviously, those who shared those thoughts were wrong. I've always thought Heat fans had an inferiority complex brought on by the national "experts" constantly saying Miami could not win a championship. Now they can revel in victory instead of worrying about what everyone is saying about their team.
South Florida needed this victory. When the Heat won its first title in 2006, the pressure was on Dallas, the favored team, and the championship game was in Dallas, not in front of the home crowd. This time, nearly 20,000 Heat fans were there for the moment, including my wife and I, both of us screaming for joy inside the Heat's house. When the clock ticked down at the end of the game, you could feel not just exhilaration, but also the pressure of crushing expectations melting away.
The Heat is on. Like never before.