So Good, So Bad

By Israel Gutierrez
Updated: July 29, 2010
MIAMI — It’s almost the best way to judge success in sports these days, by gauging the level of loathing directed at any particular player, team, program or organization.

It’s no surprise, then, that Sports Illustrated’s list of the 25 Most Hated Teams of All Time reads mostly like a who’s who of team sports success.

If that same line of reasoning applies to sports-related lists, then this must be a wildly successful one. Because I hate it.

Not the list itself, actually, just certain elements of it. There’s no way to truly measure something as subjective as dislike, so you can just as easily say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this list.

But if you’re going to criticize it — and isn’t that what makes lists like these entertaining at all is providing your own perspective — it essentially breaks down into three categories:

1) Problems with the order of the list.

2) Problems with a team that’s included in the list at all.

3) Obvious omissions from the list.

It’s fair to say Miami took something of a beating on this list, with the Hurricanes included not just at the top of the list but a second time, the current Heat showing up to round out the list, the eminently likable Dwyane Wade showing up a second time with the 2004 U.S. Olympic squad at No. 20 and a couple more Miami sports fixtures, Jimmy Johnson and Michael Irvin, showing up with the Cowboys at No. 3 on the list.

KID STUFF

So it’s probably a natural reaction to be defensive about it as a South Floridian. But even taking that instinct out of the equation, the 1986 Hurricanes are hardly worthy of being the most despised team in the history of games.

No, sportsmanship was not their thing, to put it mildly, and rocking military fatigues before a national championship game against Penn State was not only an affront to niceness but it also inappropriately muddled the line between sports and actual combat.

But these were also kids. Kids with lenient coaches in this respect, sure, but kids nonetheless who aren’t supposed to know how to act when they’re thrust in the middle of the sports limelight for no other reason than they are great at their game of choice.

Bragging came naturally, and no one was there to stop them.

And yes, there may have been some legal issues with that team, but no more than any of the issues that most major college programs face when they’re experiencing a similar level of success.

It’s bad enough that a group of amateur college students tops the list of most hated, but to separate them as, by far, the most hated group of amateurs ever is a tad over the top.

How different was the 1989-90 UNLV basketball team, a group that dominated the sport while essentially laughing at rules and even being photographed living it up with a convict known as “Richie the Fixer” Perry?

Apparently quite different because there were seven teams between them. No, the Hurricanes don’t deserve the top ranking (they didn’t even win the championship, for crying out loud!), and the Bad Boy Pistons don’t deserve to be No. 2.

Their worst crimes were playing physical basketball in an era when it was allowed, playing up to a cool nickname and delaying Michael Jordan’s trip to the top of the basketball world.

There were any number of teams that could have topped that list other than those two, like the 2007 Patriots, arguably the most aggravating, pompous, disappointing band of cheaters football has ever seen.

Then there’s the one shocking inclusion that makes this list even harder to swallow, and that’s the one team on the list that hasn’t even played a game.

The 2010-11 Heat? Really? Jealousy has run so rampant in the three weeks since The Decision that this team is already an all-timer in the hate category?

It’s funny, because this widely hated team will be the draw of the NBA. Is that because it’s hated or because it will be wildly entertaining?

Is the Heat hated because the idea of a great “team” means less to people than the creation of a great individual? Because purists have been saying just the opposite for quite some time, but suddenly those same folks are clamoring for stars to embrace their individuality at the risk of winning.

This team could play such an engaging style of basketball and win at an unprecedented pace that it will be considered one of the best teams in sports history, but before it has played a single game it’s on record as one of the most hated teams ever?

Makes perfect sense.

OTHER OPTIONS

Finally there are the omissions. How about replacing the Heat team, or that poorly constructed, doomed-for-failure 2004 U.S. Olympic team with the 2000-01 Lakers team?

Here was a team that featured the most stubborn superstar, Shaquille O’Neal, arguably the most arrogant up-and-comer, Kobe Bryant and the most condescending coach in the league, Phil Jackson.

Or maybe last year’s Yankees, who finally bought their championship and managed to make an admitted steroids user into a hero in the span of less than a year.

Or maybe the late 1990s Broncos teams who won while circumventing the salary cap, it was later found, and were notorious for below-the-knees blocks that were on the edge of being illegal and certainly dangerous.

But then again, it really shouldn’t matter. As one T-shirt said during the over-the-top introduction of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh a couple weeks back, “Let Them Hate.”

Being the target of hate should be taken as a compliment these days, anyway.