Here's something to think about, Heat

BY foxsports • February 7, 2011

MIAMI— As the Miami Heat prepare for Tuesday night's home game against Indiana and a road trip that will take them to Boston on Sunday, they might want to turn to an unlikely person to aid them.

LeBron James and Co., meet Friedrich Nietzsche.

The Heat already have several component parts to their team and championship designs.

They have an all-time top-10 talent in LeBron. An in-house coaching legend in Pat Riley. A young but promising coach in Erik Spoelstra. A defining nickname for their expectations and talent in the Big Three.

They found a binding agent for togetherness in all those "haters" rooting against them, a catalyst in LeBron's return to Cleveland and a shared faith in their December romp through the league. Now it's time for their very own in-house philosopher.

Nietzsche, with his arrogance, controversial place in history, unquestioned talent and penchant for speaking about enemies, isolation and unnerving topics, is the perfect fit for them.

To get this rolling, here's one of the German philosopher's most famous phrases: "And if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

This is exactly what the Heat face this week. In playing Indiana at home Tuesday night, they revisit perhaps their most humiliating loss of the year, which came during a stretch that nearly derailed their entire season.

Erik Spoelstra watched tape from that Nov. 22 game in which the Pacers beat his team 93-77 in Miami. It was, to say the least, not pretty.

"I haven't forgotten that game," Spoelstra said. "It was a miserable game here at home in front of our fans. I know our players haven't forgotten about that. Both teams were different teams. That was still really early on in our development.

"I watched part of the game this morning and I cringed watching it."

Studying the film is fine and good, and it's what coaches and players do. But the Heat need to be careful not to look too long or hard at what's there. What they'll see is the November version of themselves: angry at each other instead of the world, undisciplined, petulant, and bending under the weight of all the hoopla and hate they themselves instigated.

Tape of those November days, for the Heat, is the abyss. And it's deep and dark. Look at it too long, let it unnerve them in the wrong ways, or let it take them back to those times, and then it will indeed be staring back.

So do like LeBron. Don't stare into it. Glance. Briefly.

Asked about that game and the tape and his reaction to it, LeBron seemed eager to dismiss the entire game.

"That was a bad game," James said. "Defensively, offensively. We're a totally different team from then. That was early on in the season. Totally different team."

He was dismissive in the best possible way. Politely, firmly and with good reason.

LeBron seems to know that focusing on the old Heat team is not as important as focusing on this new and improved, and now healthy, Heat team.

Remember, this is a team fueled in large part by emotion and memory. LeBron has talked about making a list of those who wronged him. The November debacle began to turn into the December turnaround after a heated team meeting at the end of that month.

It was Cleveland — and all of LeBron's rage and desire to turn the world's loathing into motivation — that changed Miami's season.

All led by the LeBron who wisely went on to embrace his inner basketball villain.

So be careful, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and fellow teammates. Look forward, not back. All that emotion and anger that energize you also can make the abyss a more potent force than normal. Don't be moved by it.

Dismiss Indiana by crushing the Pacers on the court, and let that be the end of any connection to that terrible loss more than two months ago. Then study the new tape. Of the victory. Stare at that all you want.

Then onto Detroit on Friday. Then, of course, on to Boston on Sunday.

In both cases, the Heat need to refocus on their anger, on their villainy, on being bad guys. LeBron said it this way a few weeks ago: He considers himself a villain on the court, not away from it.

Fair enough. Now he needs to entirely embrace that on-court element of himself.

Again, Nietzsche: "You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star."

Let's interpret: Chaos, outside-the-box thinking, separating oneself from the pack, uncertainty and passion and a touch of torture — all of these things lead to greatness.

In art. In writing. And yes, in sports.

The Heat can't let that anger, that chaos born out of November, escape them. They must hold onto it. They must mock their opponents. Mistrust every single team and player they face. Assume they are hated. Assume they are being mocked behind closed doors. Assume every game is a chance to best a hater and correct an unfair world.

Buy into this, regardless of whether or not it's true. The chaos of November led directly to the dawn of this team's potential in December. They must fiercely guard what powered that change.

That means embracing their inner villain. It means they must wear that chip on their shoulders proudly. They must find the anger, find the slights real and imagined, and use it to power their way through a very difficult Eastern Conference.

They can't worry about being friends with other players, or having fun with them at parties, or saying the right things about other guys in the league. Time to go Larry Bird. Be that guy's drive, desire and lack of socializing. Worry only about the Miami Heat. Worry only about themselves, their teammates and victory. About nothing and no one else.

Worry about championships. Leave popularity and likeability for July.

Because rest assured, most of the league still wants to humiliate LeBron and his teammates, wants to see them lose, wants to mock them in private. Even if they've gotten smart enough to no longer say so out loud.

Again, Mr. Nietzsche: "The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

So embrace the loneliness, Miami Heat. Let there be fear. Fear of losing. Fear of being humiliated. Fear of The Decision defining your entire legacy. Of returning to those November game days. And of there being no game days in June.

Own yourself. Kick the snot out of Indiana on Tuesday night, beat Detroit on Friday and then, most important of all, beat Boston in the Garden on Sunday.

Avoid looking toward the All-Star game and avoid getting complacent over what is currently a six-game winning streak. This is what the Heat must do.

They must remember they have one purpose and one purpose only: to crush the rest of the league and show the world — the world that booed them and cheered their early struggles — how great they can be. Anything short of that is a failure.

So listen to Nietzsche, guys. He knows what he's talking about.

"To forget one's purpose," he wrote, "is the commonest form of stupidity."

You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter.


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