Erik Spoelstra, the Heat and the crying game

Life after the All-Star Break hasn't been particularly kind to the Miami Heat, the Lakers' hosts this upcoming Thursday. They're 4-6 in their last 10 games, with the most recent four losses coming in succession. More ominously, this streak features story lines stirring the pot even further. The Heat can't maintain big leads. The Heat can't close the deal in tight contests. The Heat have no crunch time offense.

And now, the Heat cry after losses.

After Sunday's down-to-the-wire loss to the Chicago Bulls, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra let it be known a couple of players shed tears after the loss. No names were mentioned, leaving folks to speculate the weepy parties -- Chris Bosh, who denied any water works, was openly suspected by Amare Stoudemire -- or simply picture the entire team passing around a Kleenex box. And predictably, the general reaction was along the lines of "what a bunch of (NSFW term for wimps)!"

Admittedly, I found the news quite surprising, but does it really constitute a crime against the unspoken "man" code? In my opinion, not nearly as much as the other violation in question.

Personally, I'm more of a "brood-and-drink-whiskey" type than a crier, but I'm also neither a caveman nor insecure with my masculinity. Thus, the notion of men crying doesn't automatically make me jeer "soft!!!" I'm not trying to "defend" whatever blubbering took place. I'm also not claiming crying is the ideal reaction -- we are talking about a regular season game played by professionals, after all-- nor one inspiring confidence. I just recognize that frustration sometimes boils over in ways you don't expect or can't control. NBA players aren't "warriors," "gladiators," or, if you prefer LeBron's tweeted cliches, "soldiers." They're human beings, and human beings sometimes allow emotion to win out.

If tears become a regular occurrence, I'll start questioning whether these guys have the stomach for what it takes to be truly great. But as an isolated incident, I don't think it's fair to paint the Heat as a squad privy to the divine secrets of the YaYa sisterhood.

If anything, more heat (pun intended) should fall on Spoelstra, who done lost his mind even allowing a detail like this to become public. What on Earth was he thinking? His players are facing enough scrutiny and ridicule as it is. This just predictably adds gasoline to the fire. Why not tape "kick me" signs on their backs while you're at it? Or secretly record the weeping and upload the footage on YouTube?

ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that Spoelstra today deemed "CryGate" a "classic case of sensationalism by the media." Well, to quote Charlie Sheen, "duh."

When raw meat is tossed into a lion's den, a feast is expected. Same thing goes here. You throw juicy details like that to a media armed with the Internet and an audience obviously relishing signs of weakness from a squad often and openly so full of itself, consumption is inevitable. It doesn't take a genius to connect these dots. If you don't want this tidbit "sensationalized," then keep it in house, where the situation dictated it belonged in the first place.

Blaming the media here is passing the buck. Sensationalizing is the 21st century job of the media, like it or not. (I vote "not," for what it's worth). But it's a coach's job to recognize this reality, recognize his team's psyche, and pragmatically weigh the pros and cons. Along these lines, Spo did the Heat a tremendous disservice.

This incident has sparked talk about how "real men "behave. Typically, crying isn't on the list. Of course, neither is putting business in the streets. To me, the bigger violation was unnecessarily jeopardizing every player's "man card" during a time already steeped in vulnerability. The Heat players may not speak out against Spoelstra, but I'm willing to bet the coach going there wasn't appreciated.

Say what you will about Phil Jackson's proclivity for tweaking players publicly, an approach often tickling the coach more than the target. The Zen Master's lips can get too loose for everyone's good. Still, it's hard to picture PJ sharing these sorts of details with the media, or even wanting to. I'd bet big money he'd have seen the bigger picture, then drawn the line.