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Pass the Heat, but leave the salt

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It's still early in the grieving process but Heat fans should focus on the great memories of the past four years and move on to enjoy what is shaping up to be an exciting new era...without the bitterness caused by LeBron James' departure.

Kevin C. Cox

I'll start this piece with the disclaimers I'm sure it needs. First, that you, the reader, are entitled to feel however you damn well please. Secondly, I am still entitled to tell you I don't like it.

It's been less than a week since Miami ushered - or was forced to usher - a new era of Heat basketball, one devoid of the greatest player on the planet. Following LeBron James' announcement, moods across Heat Nation have fluctuated from shock to despair, disappointment to bitter hatred.

I'm okay with the first three, not so much the last one.

National media and fans from other teams might not think this but one of the endearing things about the beginning of the "Big 3" era in July 2010 was how positive Heat fans responded to the news. For that first of four wonderful seasons, we were cast as undeserving, spoiled, and arrogant. In fact, we were none of those things.

We were loud and proud and overjoyed and we were right to feel so. We celebrated the greatest free agent acquisitions in the history of the NBA with a party. We - and OUR team - were cast as villains, most of that likely due to sour grapes. In 2010, James' announcement tipped the scales in Miami's favor and it was difficult for 29 other fan bases to watch. We are now witnessing the opposite as James joins the Cavaliers and now the Eastern Conference seems wide open again.

But when it all began...what a signature moment for real Heat fans to enjoy.

Miami Heat basketball has been a part of my life since the very beginning. My father was a season ticket holder the first year of the Heat's existence, partly because he wanted to watch the farewell tour of the retiring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Lakers great had been a local phenom in New York City, where my parents grew into adults, met and married. Lew Alcindor (later Abdul-Jabbar) was just becoming the player that would be the all-time leading scorer in NBA history.

So he bought the tickets because he wanted to see the aging, goggled superstar one last time. I remember the poster that was a giveaway on that night was thumbtacked on my wall in later years next to images of Paulina Porizkova and Carol Alt (think Gisele Bündchen and Kate Upton of the early 90's).

The point is that I, like many of you, have seen it all throughout the years. From Rory Sparrow to Rony Seikaly and on to Glen Rice and Steve "Tricky" Smith and those first trips into the postseason. Trading away Rice to begin the Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway era. Failing to get past Michael Jordan's Bulls or Patrick Ewing's New York Knicks. Zo's kidneys failing and then, miraculously, him returning to the hardwood.

A new level of excitement that started with the fifth pick in the 2003 draft. Shaquille O'Neal promising - and delivering - a parade on Biscayne Boulevard. Some trying times followed, even as Dwyane Wade achieved historically-great status. And then "The Decision."

I've written about it before but, even now in these days of recovery, I'll stand by it; it might have been one of the top 10 moments in my life as a Heat fan. The hope it created, that feeling that we probably won't have again and that some fans will NEVER experience, of knowing you are on the cusp of historic greatness.

And now it's all over. It was a miserable afternoon, following the news of James' return to Cleveland. It seemed hopeless in a way only sports can irrationally make you feel and it sent Heat fans on a roller coaster that they'll ride until the season and all of its new stories begin in a few months.

But some of the things I've seen since Friday have been disappointing to say the least. Again, I can't deny anyone their feelings but I'm still allowed to say that it's troubling to see a mural that took years to paint defaced in mere minutes. That jerseys and shoes have met an unnatural end engulfed in flames. That hateful comments and insults have been hurled without consequence.

I'll go against the national, "feel-good" narrative and say that I think James' departure was a mistake and a bad idea. That there is evidence of collusion between James' representatives and the Cavaliers that might possibly go back years. The rumors that James might have borne resentment, silently, against the front office, coaches and players that supported him through his difficult first season in Miami. And worse, that James and his agent sat across from Pat Riley and gave this shrewd mastermind who has seen it all the feeling that he'd come back to Miami. The only word I can think of is "deception."

Through all of that and I can still say, that James didn't owe us a thing after four years. We were privileged to witness basketball greatness during that time and now that he's moved on, we should remember how lucky we were and relish those memories. At funerals, you don't sit around remembering every fight or insult you hurled at the departed, do you? No, you remember the good times, the smiles, the laughs and you mourn with the realization that you'll never experience those again.

I wonder how much social media and the need to post every inane thought or deed have affected this process. What would have happened in 2003 when Mourning - who is now virtually a saint in "Miami-Wade" County - left Riley hanging after he assembled a team around his star player? After Riley waited for years for Zo to come back, making millions as his kidneys kept him on the sidelines, and then, as soon as he was healthy enough to leave Miami, he joined the Nets for a contract he never even played out?

I know it's still very soon in the grieving process. With the encouraging moves Riley has made since Friday's announcement, hopefully you are on the road to recovery. And I can't begrudge you the right to be disappointed about his departure. But to destroy property and trash his image and insult him via Twitter and wish for, appallingly, an injury-prone future? Those aren't the things true Heat fans do.

After all, this is what they did in Cleveland when James left in 2010 and we were - and are - better than that.