"Come on, how often do we have to hear about the LeBron James reality show and what he is or isn't doing?"
-- Rick Carlisle, coach of the Dallas Mavericks, after defeating the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals
Don't kid yourself, Rick. It was never about you and your Dallas Mavericks.
Even in defeat, especially in defeat, the stars of the drama, played out on millions of TV screens around the world, were LeBron James and the Heat.
Sure, it was Carlisle, the Jasons and Dirk Nowitzki celebrating as heroes in AmericanAirlines Arena last week, but in the great theater that was the 2010-11 NBA season, the Mavericks were no more than bit actors -- the guys at the bottom of the Empire State Building poking their fingers into a dead King Kong. It could just as well have been the Grizzlies, Lakers or Thunder holding up the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Outside of South Florida, no one would have cared as long as it wasn't the Heat.
The NBA set TV ratings records throughout the regular season and the playoffs for one reason: the Heat.
The way we see it, ESPN, TNT and NBA commissioner David Stern owe James and the Heat money. They say sports are the real reality TV -- unscripted, raw, inspiring.
All of that's true, but the inherent draw of sports doesn't begin to explain how the Heat provided fans with one of the most intriguing seasons in American sports history.
Fact is, Americans just love our reality TV.
Starring: LeBron James, beloved basketball player; Jim Gray, annoying TV reporter.
Setting: Boys & Girls Club, Greenwich, Conn.
Synopsis: LeBron , the show's star, is universally loved. He grew up in Akron, Ohio, and began his career playing for the Cavaliers of blue-collar Cleveland. But James has a big decision to make, and he's going to make it on live TV. James' contract is up and he has to decide where he wants to play next. He has been courted by some of the most popular teams in the NBA. Will he stay home? Will he seek out the bright lights of New York? Will he carry on the legacy of basketball great Michael Jordan in Chicago? None of the above. James picks tropical Miami and tells his fans and the world, "I'm taking my talents to South Beach." The televised decision is perceived as crass, and James is labeled arrogant. National backlash is immediate.
Review: This could be the beginning of a reality TV show empire.
Viva La Revolucion!
Starring: LeBron James; Dwyane Wade, basketball star and ringleader of the Big 3; Chris Bosh, basketball star-turned-slightly eccentric sidekick.
Settings: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami; Boston.
Timeline: James' arrival in Miami and the beginning of the basketball season.
Synopsis: James joins Wade in Miami and the two friends convince Bosh, formally of the Toronto Raptors, to make like a snowbird and fly south for the winter, as well. The Big 3 have plans of dominating the NBA from the first game, and the Heat throws a braggadocios welcoming party at its arena to celebrate the offseason's free agent coup. James tells fans that he plans to win multiple championships. But the season doesn't start quite like James and the Heat expect. They lose the opening game to the reigning Eastern Conference champions Boston Celtics. There are other losses, as well. Why the rocky start? Bosh tells a reporter that the players just like to "chill." He also enrages Canadians by criticizing the country's satellite-TV infrastructure.
Review: Even Canadians have a reason to watch.
Slow off the blocks
Starring: LeBron James; Erik Spoelstra, young basketball coach of the Heat perceived to be in over his head.
Settings: Dallas, Miami.
Synopsis: The team begins the season 9-7. Episode 3 begins at Dallas' American Airlines Center and will serve as foreshadowing of the season finale in Episode 9. Things just aren't right with the Heat, but it's about to get worse. The Heat is embarrassed by the Mavericks and emotions appear to be at a tipping point. During a timeout, James storms off the court and, in the process, bumps into his coach. It's perceived as an act of defiance. After the game, players kick the coaching staff out of the visiting locker room and conduct a long and intense meeting. Grievances are aired. The team returns to Miami and James further attempts to undermine his coach by leaking a story to a reporter that Spoelstra is too hard on the players. The future of the coach and the stability of the team are in doubt.
Review: This new reality TV show just got really interesting.
Starring: LeBron James.
Settings: Miami, Cleveland, Phoenix.
Synopsis: In the opening scene, a poignant meeting between James and coach Erik Spoelstra defuses the ticking time bomb from Episode 3. Behind the scenes, Heat president Pat Riley conducts mind games to get James back in line. The Heat is really rolling now and emerges from its strife as the NBA's hottest team. James returns to Cleveland and thumps his old team in one of the most surreal sporting events in American history. Once uncomfortable with the backlash he created from his decision in Episode 1, James has now fully embraced his role as the NBA's leading villain. But he takes it too far, telling reporters in Phoenix that "it would be great for the league" to contract a few teams that "aren't that great." James tells reporters, "You guys aren't stupid; I'm not stupid." He later backtracks by saying he had "no idea" what the word contraction meant until "I saw it on the Internet."
Review: More scenes featuring Riley, please.
Starring: LeBron James.
Settings: Miami, Los Angeles, New York.
Timeline: January, February.
Synopsis: We learn that the Heat clobbered the defending champion Lakers on Christmas Day and James and Dwyane Wade are named co-Players of the Month in December. The Heat then sets out on its longest trip of the year, which takes the team back to Los Angeles for a game against the Clippers. Coincidentally, James' old team, Cleveland, is there, too, playing the Lakers. Cleveland loses in historic fashion to the Lakers the night before James and the Heat play the Clippers. James celebrates Cleveland's misfortunes by posting a controversial message on his Twitter account: "Crazy. Karma is a b***. Gets you every time. It's not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!" The Heat then loses badly to the Clippers before losing five of its next six games. The final loss is to the Knicks, who overhauled their roster just in time for the Heat's visit to New York.
Review: James' star power just went supernova.
Starring: LeBron James
Settings: Chicago, Miami
Timeline: February, March.
Synopsis: Episode 6 begins in Chicago, where the Heat loses a heartbreaker to the Bulls. Many are to blame for the loss, but James takes it the hardest. The Heat returns to Miami for one of its most important stretches of the season. It goes badly. The Heat loses to the Knicks and instate rival Orlando before traveling to San Antonio for a game against the Spurs, who have the league's best record. The Heat loses by 30. Back in Miami, the Heat loses its third and final meeting with the Bulls. A running theme throughout the TV show is James' inability to deliver in the clutch. He stumbles again against the Bulls and coach Erik Spoelstra reveals in a postgame news conference that some of his players were crying in the locker room after the defeat. Players dodge questions about who cried, but it's clear James was emotionally shaken by the game's outcome. He tells reporters that he will no longer fail his teammates. The screen fades to black, setting the stage for the playoffs.
Review: What, James can't cry on camera? Big letdown for a reality TV show with so much promise.
Breakfast of champions
Starring: LeBron James, Chris Bosh.
Settings: Miami, Philadelphia.
Synopsis: In the opening credits we learn the Heat loses a surprising home game to the Milwaukee Bucks. Episode 7 begins hours after the loss at the luxurious Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach, where Gloria James, LeBron's mother, is arrested after slapping a valet attendant. Seemingly unaffected by the incident, James leads the Heat into the playoffs with the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed. The Heat faces the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round and it's revealed that a certificate of marriage had been filed for Bosh and his fiancC(c)e, Adrienne Williams. When asked by reporters about the document, Bosh acted surprised and said he's not married. Later in the first-round series, James analogizes that beating the 76ers is like "finishing our breakfast." The entire NBA feels somehow insulted.
Review: Hard-boiled Episode 7 of Heat of the Moment is the best yet.
Starring: LeBron James.
Settings: Boston, Miami.
Synopsis: The TV show has been building to a playoff series between the Heat and Celtics, and it's finally here. The Heat loses Game 1 and the episode begins in Boston with the ramblings of a fan posing as a reporter during the Heat's postgame news conference. James mutters under his breath to Dwyane Wade that the question was "retarded." The Heat wins the next game, and James apologizes for using the politically incorrect word. But it's too little, too late. Now the ACLU even hates James. Viewers learn that a Celtics player openly mocked James earlier in the season, but James gets the last laugh while also silencing critics who said he can't perform in the clutch. The Heat defeats the Celtics in five games and celebrates on its home court like it had just won the NBA championship. It's one of the most genuine scenes of the TV show, but critics of the Heat use it as a chance to bash the team for celebrating prematurely. The Heat goes on to defeat the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals, which sets up the show's final episode. The Heat will face the Dallas Mavericks, and viewers learn that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban warned James in the offseason of joining teams like the Heat. Screen fades to black.
Review: The season finale could set ratings records for a reality TV show.
Starring: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade.
Settings: Miami, Dallas.
Synopsis: The two-hour season finale begins with a montage of the previous nine episodes and a review of the 2006 NBA Finals. Viewers learn that the Mavericks blew the 2006 Finals after beginning the series with two victories. It also is revealed that Dallas owner Mark Cuban questioned the legality of the Heat's acquisitions of James, Wade and Chris Bosh in the offseason. The Mavericks' leading man is a 7-foot German, Dirk Nowitzki, who has a history of underperforming in the clutch. American TV and cinema have a history of portraying Germans as villains. But this is reality TV and, in reality, everyone loves Germans. Nowitzki becomes ill with the flu during the Finals and plays one of the games despite being sick. After the game, James and Wade mock Nowitzki by feigning sickness and forcefully coughing in front of a cameraman. On the court, it's James' and Wade's abilities that appear under the weather. A reporter asks James why he "shrinks" in fourth quarters, and James' old tendencies emerge on cue. The Mavericks defeat the Heat in three consecutive games and celebrate the championship on the Heat's court. Cuban tells a TV reporter that his team's fans "punked the - - - - out of Heat fans." The episode ends with a teaser to Season Two of the TV show, when James posts a message on Twitter saying that God knows when it's his time to win.
Review: Heat of the Moment is the best thing on TV.