Was I in the right place?
Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals had just started, and the denizens of On The Rocks Sports Bar in Miami Beach couldn't give a shit. Well, that's not entirely true. The older woman seated to my right at the bar -- with her baby blue nails and sweaty glass of white wine -- kept yelling into the air in front of her, "Let's go Heat!" while begging Jesus to guide Dwyane Wade and company to a win. But she was alone in her cries for divine assistance. Even though she sat just two feet away, she didn't notice the lone Celtics fan in the entire bar. Try as hard as I might, my clapping and screaming and fist pumping after every Boston basket didn't get the reaction I'd expected.
I'm used to being a Boston fan in a city that hates them. Before coming to Miami this month to work at New Times, I spent six-and-a-half years in New York. That city is full of people who honestly believe, if they tell you over and over again that your team sucks, maybe you'll change your allegiance. After being a Red Sox/Patriots/Celtics fan in Manhattan, I felt I could face down the Heat. So I went to On The Rocks last night to see how the Miami faithful would react to a Rajon Rondo-loving stranger in their midst.
I expected expletives and tirades from that night's boozers. I was hoping for threats and warnings from the bartenders. At the very least, I wanted to talk with a diehard fan or two, maybe someone filled with hatred for New England. Instead, I got a handful of people watching the game with a passing interest, and not one word about the Celtics fan who'd taken up residence in their bar.
On The Rocks didn't turn down the music during the game. If anything, the music seemed to get louder, bouncing between classic rock and a hideous dubstep compilation. That, coupled with Miami's double-digit lead through the second quarter, left me wondering why I thought this was a good idea in the first place. Two TVs weren't even tuned to the game. One featured an endless stream of UFC fights. On the other was tuned to women's college softball in a game that had nothing to do with the state of Florida.
I tried to make them hate me. I fist pumped so hard after some Celtics scores that I was worried my labrum would tear. LeBron James briefly turned his ankle and I started clapping like a choir member at a Baptist service. I did my best Kevin Garnett impression, throwing curses at the TV at every so-called Heat foul. But no one looked over and no one tried to one-up me.
With about two minutes left in the third quarter, someone at the bar finally made a move. He was a large dude sitting to my right, wearing a beat-up straw boater hat and a dirty white t-shirt. After I clapped following a made free throw (seriously, I cheered anything and everything the Celtics did right), he said what I'd been hoping to hear all night.
"We got a Boston fan here," he growled, and I wasn't sure if that had been directed just to me or if he was trying to round up a posse of pissed off patrons. "Maybe we should take him out back."
We made eye contact. This was the moment I'd been waiting for: A Heat fan, defending his turf, shutting up the outsider. I would've considered the trip a failure without a little bloodshed, and I begin to prepare myself for a brawl. I wouldn't go down without a fight.
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But before I could start the trash talking, he began to laugh. After a second or two, I started laughing, too. The tension dissolved. The threat had never existed.
A minute later, the Celtics took their first lead of the game. He cursed softly and slumped in his chair. "They're not going to win in Boston," he said of the Heat. He didn't turn to me again, not even to issue another mock threat.
I stood from my barstool and clapped and cheered at game's end. Not that my momentary enemy saw that. He'd left with two minutes to go, the Heat trailing, the Celtics triumphant, their lone fan's love rewarded.