One of the best-known models for dealing with loss is "the five stages of grief,” developed by the psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. If you're a Heat fan, chances are good you've spent the past 12 months living all five without even realizing it. From the departure of LeBron James, to the Chris Bosh health scare, all the way to the missing of the playoffs after four straight NBA Finals appearances — this season provided Heat fans with plenty of sad sports times.
As LeBron motors his way toward another finals in Cleveland, it's a great time to review how Heat fans have coped this year.
Shock, numbness, and disbelief — this is the denial stage. A feeling of Is this really happening? or thoughts of I just can’t believe this person I love won't walk through that door anymore.
Yeah, we felt this one.
When the internet hit Heat fans in the face with that Sports Illustrated "I'm Coming Home" LeBron letter, it didn't seem real — honestly, many Heat fans spent the first few minutes frantically confirming it wasn't some elaborate, sick, and twisted Twitter parody. Surprisingly, Heat fans took LeBron's sudden departure with class. Well, at least they did at first.
At one point, #ThankYouLeBron was trending on Twitter, and it seemed like a large number of Heat fans thought they could go about their fandom without completely hating King James and his new team. Yeah, that didn't happen. Soon enough, Heat fans would realize it's much easier to be less of a butt-hurt NBA fan in July than May.
Ah, yes, the anger stage — Heat fans remember it like it was yesterday. The feeling of anger came when we heard how LeBron left; then we directed it at Pat Riley for pissing him right-the-hell off with his postseason comments. At the time, some were asking, Why is Dwyane Wade helping him with his basketball camp if he's leaving?
Our seemingly classy behavior seemed to be met at every turn with new information that detailed how LeBron left Miami — and it wasn't exactly as butterflies-gumdrops-and-cotton-candy-soft as his letter had spelled it out. Denial that we would soon have to root against the very man we cherished, defended, and cheered quickly turned to anger, because every time you opened a social media app, you were kicked in the face with a new shady story about how LeBron screwed us.
As the rage fades, hope rises that somehow life might eventually get back to the way it once was. I'm not even mad anymore at LeBron, Heat fans reasoned. We were good before him; we'll be fine after him!
Part of the bargaining stage includes strong feelings of If only... and wondering if there was something Heat fans (or Pat Riley) could have done to avoid this situation. Maybe if we'd just been nice to LeBron! Maybe if we send him nice Facebook messages, he'll reconsider.
Suddenly, you're filled with emptiness and sadness — right around the time a Bleacher Report alert to your smartphone informed you that the Heat signed Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts. Soon it became clear the Heat wouldn't be exactly replacing LeBron James with a superstar, just the corpse of Luol Deng, who at the time was being sold to Heat Nation as one of the biggest signings in franchise history. As the season went on, and those new signings actually had to perform on the court, Heat fandom got sad for a good long while.
The trade-deadline Goran Dragic signing — which should have ended Heat Nation's depression — was met hours later with news that Chris Bosh had a scary brush with a blood clot. From there, it was just a battle to feel good about ourselves. One week up, next week down — it was bipolar fandom at its best. This past season truly wasn't what we had become accustomed to over the past four years — and it sucked. At this point, we stopped caring about who was better than the Heat and just felt depressed.
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Finally, in recent weeks, Heat Nation has been able to separate fairy tale from reality and has accepted what this season was all about. All the cards are on the table, and as crappy as the hand might be, it is what it is. The facts are clear: LeBron James is back to being a superstar in Cleveland — and that's totally fine. Heat fans have to watch the Cavs limping around the playoffs, giving the inept Chicago Bulls every opportunity to beat them, and feel pretty good about Miami's chances going forward in the East. With Dragic, Whiteside, Wade, Deng, Bosh, and a top-ten pick returning next season, the Heat is primed to jump back into the contender discussion.
It took a few stages to get through our grief, but we emerged from it. And now that we've hit the acceptance stage, we feel pretty damn good about our future.