There’s no crying in baseball, as Tom Hanks’ manager character told us in A League of Their Own. But there is crying in the locker room of the NBA’s Miami Heat. A couple of Heat players cried Sunday after the beleaguered team lost its fourth straight game, 87–86, to the Chicago Bulls. We know this because Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told us.
Spoelstra’s violation of the most basic code in professional sports—what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room—may be an even bigger problem for the Heat than their lack of chemistry late in games.
“This is painful for every one of us going through this,” Spoelstra said after the Heat fell two games behind Chicago for second place in the Eastern Conference. Had Spoelstra said nothing else, the Heat would be not subjected to such national ridicule. But when Spoelstra talked openly about players crying, he unwittingly turned his team into a punch line. New York Knicks players reportedly were laughing at the Heat in their own locker room after beating the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. Can any Heat player really trust Spoelstra after this?
When all-star Dwyane Wade tried to explain the Heat’s failure to protect a double-digit lead in the second half against Chicago, a reporter asked Wade if he had been one of the crying players. “Why do you want to know if I was crying?” an annoyed Wade asked. “I’m not going to tell you that.”
The Heat put bulls-eyes on their backs before the season when all-stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh left Cleveland and Toronto, respectively, to join Wade in Miami. Then, at a splashy pep rally at American Airlines Arena, James predicted the trio would win seven NBA championships together. Not one or two. Seven. There’s nothing wrong with being confident. But there was no need for James to call the Heat a dynasty in the making. Just let it happen. Loose lips can sink ships, and a team’s fortunes.
Whether the Heat continue to be the butt of jokes or develop into a true basketball superpower will depend on how they perform against the rest of the NBA’s elite. The Heat are 1–9 against the Lakers (1–0), Celtics (0–3), Bulls (0–3), Mavericks (0–2) and Spurs (0–1). The Heat are 5–13 in games decided by five points or fewer. Those are disturbing statistics with the playoffs just a month away.
The Heat have major tests coming up against the defending champion Lakers in Miami on Thursday and the league-leading Spurs in Miami next Monday. There’s still time for Miami to fix its chemistry problems on the court. But Spoelstra, 40, may have a pink slip in his future. If players can’t cry in the locker room without the coach telling the whole world, what’s the NBA coming to?
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.
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