Sacrifice should be applauded, not scorned

By Israel Gutierrez
Updated: September 28, 2010
MIAMI — Let’s attempt to get past this one final time, because training camp began Tuesday and a Heat team featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will no longer be an unfathomable concept, it will be a reality.

The Heat had its Media Day Monday, and on the eve of training camp the team was still answering questions about being hated and whether those daggers being tossed from a distance, whether it be the more obvious ones that came from Charles Barkley and Otis Smith or the more subtle types from Michael Jordan and Stan Van Gundy, will affect them.

The players, primarily the three headliners, were forced to wonder aloud what it’s like to be hated and why the abhorrence has come with such hurricane force when their goals are the same as every other team.

Now, this isn’t so much for those in South Florida, because if you’re a Heat fan you don’t subscribe to the notion that the Heat is the most villainous team in sports.

But for those who still believe that these three individual basketball powers joining forces is reason to despise the Heat and to alter your opinion on either one of the three, it’s just plain flawed thinking.

Regardless of how the information was delivered — by now we have all probably accepted the fact that James could have used a touch more sensitivity in making his announcement — the act these men are executing is commendable, honorable and absolutely praiseworthy.

SPOELSTRA SPEAKS

Erik Spoelstra is biased when it comes to this subject. He has to be because he’s the coach of this All-Star team. But it doesn’t mean he can’t make all the sense in the world when he speaks of it.

He has, after all, probably thought about it as much as anyone else. Monday he made the backlash toward the Heat sound preposterous with just a few sentences.

“At first it was surprising for us,” Spoelstra said. “Because you would think in today’s time in sports that a team assembled like this would be celebrated. Guys really willing to sacrifice, not only financially, but to give up something statistically — [which is] how they are judged by the media, their peers and fans — to give up a lot of that to be part of something bigger than themselves, part of something special, that really should be celebrated. It wasn’t.

“It’s hypocritical, right? Every team in the league would’ve done what we were able to do.”

For some that’s not enough. The idea that multimillionaires are slightly less rich doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to those who can’t relate to those figures to begin with.

But it’s the act that’s worth the praise. It’s the sentiment that comes with the multimillion dollar donation to the greater cause.

When you hear Udonis Haslem explain how he went from somber and disappointed to ecstatic and reenergized within a matter of minutes, you understand just how meaningful the act was.

Right around “Decision” time, Haslem was so convinced there was no more room for him on the Heat, the hometown team he had been with for seven seasons, that he was on the phone with Wade lamenting their eventual separation while heading to Heat headquarters for a “thanks for everything” meeting with Pat Riley.

All that appeared available was a minimum contract for one year, while Dallas and Denver were offering five years, $34 million.

“Me and Dwyane’s conversation on the way in was like, `I love you, it’s been great and I wish you the best,’ ” Haslem said. “I think he realized what the situation was going to be, and he made the sacrifice, he made the phone call to the other guys.”

In the middle of his meeting with Riley, Haslem was asked to leave the office while his agent replaced him. Soon after, the minimum contract turned into the five-year, $20 million offer he eventually signed.

That was made possible not just because of Wade, who had spent seven years bonding with Haslem, but because of James, who Haslem estimates he had spoken to for a total of 30 minutes during the previous seven years, and because of Bosh, who Haslem hosted on a recruiting visit to the University of Florida but was barely an acquaintance. They barely knew Haslem, but they tossed millions to share uniforms with him.

That doesn’t happen. Not at this level.

BEHIND THE NUMBERS

And when you put names and details to the story rather than just incomprehensible dollar figures, it’s a lot easier to recognize that it does mean something, and that these players are representing not what’s wrong with sports but what’s too often missing from sports.

“When I was brought up playing team sports, it was about sacrifice,” Haslem said. “It was about one common goal.

“I’ve never seen a team that had more negative stuff around it for doing the right thing.”

That negative stuff, the hypocrisy and jealousy and overreaction, that’s what should be criticized.

This team should move on knowing that all that hatred is entirely misdirected and inappropriate. And maybe now that basketball is finally getting started, everyone else will figure it out, too.