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Sunday afternoon, just after the Heat fell to the Bulls 87-86, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra spoke to the media about the loss, his team's fourth straight.
"This is painful for every single one of us going through this," Spoelstra said. "There are a couple guys crying in the locker room right now."
Wait, wait, wait. Hold up.
So the leader (or, perhaps more appropriately, the figurehead) of this Miami team voluntarily told the world that some of his guys were crying? Over a regular-season game? Oh, this was gonna get good.
And sure enough, ever since the moment the word "crying" left Spoelstra's lips, the sobbing in South Beach has been the top story in the sports world. Songs such as "Big Girls Don't Cry" are playing radio shows back from commercial and headlines such as the Chicago Sun-Times' "The Crying Game" are splashed across newspapers and blogs. The idea of the NBA's cockiest super-squad weeping over a regular-season game is just too delicious not to exploit.
If Spoelstra's intention was to prove that his guys care as much about the game as their next shoe deal, he simply should have said that. Instead, his comments made his team sound soft, whiny and fragile. The Heat coach clearly realized as much sometime last night, as he's already singing a different tune.
"I think you guys could probably take anything I say and turn it into a story," Spoelstra said Monday. "I was shocked when [Tim Donovan, head of Heat media relations] told me about it this morning that it's actually making news. I think you guys can be a little more creative than that. I mean, I will say one thing, the guys care, alright. Nobody was whimpering in the locker room."
Spoelstra continued to backtrack when reporters asked him point-blank if players were, in fact, tearing up after the loss.
"Guys' heads [were] down. There was a lot of noise going in there," Spoelstra said, head down himself. "I think the rest of it -- I think you guys are really searching for sensationalism right now. I find it kind of humorous. I call it 'Crygate' right now."
Blaming the media and giving the situation a cute nickname isn't going to make it go away. And you better believe there's not a person out there who thinks Spoelstra's crying comment yesterday wasn't true. Though LeBron James backed his coach today, saying, "Spo is the captain ... we stand behind anything he says," you have to wonder whether the players feel betrayed by their coach's admission. As if their four-game losing streak weren't bad enough, now they're being called out for their manliness.
Now I'm not one to fault a guy for showing emotion in sports. In fact, I can't stand it when a player smiles and laughs with his opponent just after losing a game. Call me a bad sport, call me a sore loser, I don't care. I always needed a few minutes to process a loss before I could "man up" and move on and I always assumed the same for others. I never mocked Adam Morrison for breaking down on the court after Gonzaga's heartbreaking loss to UCLA in the 2006 NCAA tourney, nor would I ever begrudge Michael Jordan the tears that flowed freely after he won his first title after his father's murder.
I will, however, throw the red flag on the Heat for crying after a regular-season game.
They're having a rough go of things, to be sure, but all is not lost. They're just a game back of the Bulls for second place in the East and four games back of the Celtics for first. With 19 games to play, anything can happen. Whether Spoelstra admits it or not, he sold out his guys Sunday, revealing them to be far more insecure than we thought. To break down so easily over a game that might mean nothing a week from now shows a real sense of doubt in the Miami locker room. A confident team hits a speed bump and keeps on moving; the Heat seem to a have blown a tire on Sunday. And all the crying in the world ain't gonna fix that.