Why do this? Why devote so much energy and so many resources to the coverage of a single NBA team? Does that really make sense for a national NBA outlet like ESPN.com?
I’ve heard these questions from friends who work in all corners of journalism, fans and a communication executive from an NBA team. They’re questions I’ve asked myself as I prepare to shift much of my individual focus toward the 2010-11 Miami Heat.
The short answer is that we’ve found an insatiable appetite for news about the Heat among basketball fans. Even after the initial firestorm over LeBron James subsided, readers stayed with the story of the Heat all summer and into the fall.
Most impressive about that sustained attention was the breadth of issues you could find in the discussion. Implications of James’ decision to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami extended beyond basketball. Pretty soon we were debating race, regionalism, free markets, the hazards of personal branding and whether sports teams are civic trusts or bands of mercenaries. The examination of these subjects occurred before the first flashbulb went off at media day.
This social and cultural terrain is rich, but there are also the equally tantalizing basketball possibilities the unprecedented assembly of talent in Miami offers us. It’s incredible fodder for junkies. To boil it down to its essence:
How is this going to work?
What happens when you place the game’s two most efficient wing players, both in their prime, at the shooting guard and small forward spots on the floor? Is it antiquated to even consider position as a factor when both guys transcend the traditional skill sets associated with their respective positions? Do the Heat need a point guard? A prototypical center? Can they do it with an iffy bench? What brand of half-court offense should head coach Erik Spoelstra craft for this team? Should he resist the temptation for structure and rely on the otherworldly instincts of his superstars, or should he parlay their one-on-one dominance by designing orderly sets that get his guys the ball precisely where they’re most dangerous?
These are merely preliminary questions. New ones will arise every time the Heat take the court and the narrative of the season unfurls.
To follow what transpires, we’re deploying the very best. Brian Windhorst, whose wisdom and work ethic sets the standard for NBA writers, is a treasure. He truly is the guy who arrives first to the press room and the one who locks it up well past midnight. It's impossible to listen to Windhorst and not glean something smart and nuanced about the league we cover.
Mike Wallace understands something so few of us do: The inscrutable nature of Miami's sports culture. There isn't a market that's won a World Series, Super Bowl and a Larry O'Brien Trophy we know less about -- and Wallace is going to be our tour guide. He knows the city and the Heat organization.
Sebastian Martinez-Christensen is crucial to our mission. You can't cover global icons unless you offer globalized coverage. This is a story with an international scope and thanks to Sebastian's versatility, we'll be able to deliver that.
Shortly, we will announce the final member of our team -- one of the brightest young basketball writers in the business.
Working in new media, we have the chance to redefine what it means to cover a team. ESPN.com has made long strides with the TrueHoop Network and its local sites. Heat Index, which will be a member of the TrueHoop Network, offers yet another model. Providing readers with comprehensive news and insight is our first priority. But in the process, we hope to discover new ways to understand and embrace pro basketball.
Given the skills and professionalism of our team, an expansive media landscape that allows journalists to experiment every day and the most dynamic story in sports, the question isn’t, "Why do this?"
It's "How can we not?"