When LeBron James headed back home to Cleveland, he forgot to pack something Heat fans hoped he'd take with him -- namely, the national hate for Dade County's fans. Before LeBron came to Miami, no one really had a problem with Heat fans, but while he was here, Heat fans caught what amounted to LeBron James ricochet-hate.
Now that LeBron has left, the easy joke to make is that Heat fans will follow. Somehow a fan base that sold out every game the past four years wasn't good enough for everyone on the outside, just another example of how plastic, fake, and fickle Miami is as a whole. Enough is enough.
Fact is, the Heat has long had one of the best fan bases in the NBA, and the numbers back up that claim. A franchise younger than almost every player on the team has proven time and time again that fans do just fine supporting the Heat. So let's bust some myths, dammit. Here's why Miami Heat fans deserve much more respect.
1. Breaking news: Miami didn't invent the bandwagon fan. Glass houses, bro.
Looking for an example of another team that saw an incredibly rapid rise in fan interest in relation to their team's sudden success wasn't the least bit hard. I just cherry-picked my favorite.
Here are the attendance numbers for "Team A" during a four-year stretch.
2005-06: 16,899 (18th in the NBA)
2006-07: 16,843 (20th in the NBA)
2007-08: 18,624 (12th in the NBA)
2008-09: 18,624 (12th in the NBA)
The franchise above ranked in the lower half of the NBA in attendance prior to the 2007-08 season, then saw a jump in ticket sales from 2007-09. "Team A" is the Boston Celtics, a franchise with 17 NBA titles and a fan base regarded as one of the, if not the, most loyal in the NBA. Except, you see, when they aren't.
The Celtics won 24 games in 2006-07, good for last in the Eastern Conference, so why did they see attendance jump from 20th to 12th after such a terrible season? Because something odd happened -- they added good players, and people like nice things! So weird! In the 2007-08 off-season, the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The following season, the Celtics won 42 more games than the year prior plus an NBA championship.
So to recap, arguably the league's most storied franchise has fans that tend to support a winner more so than a loser, which is so odd, because I thought that just happened in Miami. At least in Miami we do bandwagoning right. Boston, you could manage only the league's 12th best attendance? You're doing it wrong.
2. Almost no Heat fans left Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. I know, I'll give you a second to recover from that karate chop of truth your face just ate.
I'm so good at Photoshop! It took me hours to cut and paste little Miami Heat fans into these pictures.
Let's get something out of the way: Leaving this game was inexcusable. Heat fans that bailed on Game 6 for what amounts to a 15-minute head start on their sad drive home should be ashamed of themselves and rightfully have to live with that decision for the rest of their lives. Now that that's out of the way, we can talk facts. Almost no one left this game early, like literally almost nobody. No, wait -- I'll explain! I know the pictures above of a packed arena aren't enough for some of the slower members of our audience.
AmericanAirlines Arena sits/stands north of 20,000 people for an NBA Finals game. Deadspin correctly put up a post titled "Hundreds of Heat Fans Leave Game 6 Early; a Nation Laughs" following the game. I'm no mathematician, but let's say 500 left -- that would mean 2.5 percent of the people in that arena decided to beat traffic -- not exactly enough of a number to make a sweeping generalization about a fan base. Hell, call it 1,000 -- that's still 5 percent, which is about the same number of fans you might find taking a dump at any given moment during an NBA game. It's a slippery slope pointing out the shady actions of the lower 5 percent of your fan base. I'm looking at you, Boston Bruins fans.
Look at the pictures, America. Watch the video. USE YOUR FACE TO DO THESE THINGS! I BELIEVE IN YOU!
3. LeBron wasn't kidding -- everything is earned in Cleveland, apparently including Cavaliers attendance numbers.
"I wish he had stayed in Cleveland, because those fans in Cleveland, man, they're fantastic. They don't even have real fans here in Miami. They're frontrunners." -- Charles Barkley
Oh, Charles, so butt-hurt. These next paragraphs will only make your butthurtitis flare up even more.
Cavaliers attendance with LeBron James:
2006-07: 20,436 (3rd in the NBA)
2007-08: 20,465 (3rd in the NBA)
2008-09: 20,010 (5th in the NBA)
2009-10: 20,562 (2nd in the NBA)
Cavaliers attendance without LeBron James:
2010-11: 20,112 (3rd in the NBA)
2011-12: 15,926 (19th in the NBA)
2012-13: 16,192 (22nd in the NBA)
2013-14: 17,329 (16th in the NBA)
Seems to me Cavaliers fans are more loyal when LeBron James plays for them, which again, is so weird because I thought that was strictly a Miami thing. This is by far the most ridiculous myth of them all, the thought that Heat fans are somehow terrible fans because more of them decided to use their spare income on watching the greatest athlete on Earth play. It happened in Cleveland. It happened in Miami. It would happen in any town. If the same number of fans came out the first year LeBron was in Miami, people would have mocked the Heat fan base, but when they do come out in larger numbers, that's somehow a negative too.
4. Knock, knock. Who's there? Heat fans. Probably a lot more of them than your favorite team's fans.
In the past decade, the Miami Heat has placed inside the top eight teams attendance-wise eight times, and seven times the Heat has been in the top five. Saying a team has sold so many tickets in the past ten years wouldn't be so impressive if it didn't represent nearly 40 percent of the team's entire existence. It's hilarious to say Heat fans come and go as they please, but at least they come, unlike other fan bases that don't arrive late -- they just don't arrive at all.
The Heat's fan attendance average of 6.7 over the past decade places it above teams known for their loyalty, such as the Spurs and the Thunder. All this while paying at times double and triple the price other teams fans do to get into games and with a league-high average parking price of $35 last year.
Once again, you just notice the empty seats at the beginning of Heat games because they are always broadcast on television.
5. Forbes has ranked Miami Heat fans among the "Most Loyal" the past few years, according to its Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index (SLI). So suck it. High-fives, Forbes
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SHOW ME HOW
Ohhhh, but what does Forbes know? The Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index interviews fans in the media markets of all 30 NBA teams to calculate a comparison of each fan base. In addition to win-loss record, the survey includes things like "authenticity," "fan bonding," and "history and tradition." The study was designed to help teams like the Heat identify what drives fan loyalty in their home and national markets. In 2013 the Miami Heat placed first, and in the most recent study, it finished third -- not too bad for a bunch of crappy fans. Cleveland Cavaliers fans have finished near the bottom in each of the last two years.
The Forbes study is an "apples-to-apples comparison of the intensity with which fans within a team's local catchment area support the home team versus corresponding values for fans of other teams."
So I guess Heat fans will have to settle for their loyalty being proven through actual facts and research rather than the sniff tests of guys like Michael Wilbon and Charles Barkely. Oh, how will we sleep at night?