Ever since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the Miami Heat in 2010 the maturity of the team has been questioned. People wondered if LeBron and Dwayne Wade could share the basketball. People wondered if Chris Bosh could handle the bright lights of Miami. People wondered if Erik Spoelstra was qualified enough to manage one of the NBA’s marquee franchises. Above all, people wondered if the team as a whole had enough maturity to jell together and win an NBA championship. These were all legitimate questions. The key word of that last sentence was “were”, because on Friday, March 23rd 2012 the Miami Heat changed everything. The Heat banded together, not as a basketball team, but as men and pulled off one of the classiest, most iconic, and most powerfully moving tributes I have ever witnessed.
The tribute itself may not seem like much at a glance. All the Heat did was throw on some hooded sweatshirts and snap a picture. They didn’t donate money, or set up a Trayvon Martin foundation. They didn’t reach out to his family, or his community. They did something much greater. They used their fame to grab hold of the situation and thrust it into the national spotlight. For you see, when NBA superstars like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade speak, the American people tend to listen. By simply snapping a picture, the Heat were able to make millions of people aware of Trayvon’s story, and that is a much greater gift than a tangible donation like money. Because in the end, no amount of money is going to bring Trayvon back, but the awareness raised by the Heat may help bring his killer to justice.
The most amazing aspect of the photo itself is it’s simplicity. Just a group of young, black men wearing hooded sweatshirts. Trayvon Martin was wearing a very similar style of hoodie on the night of his death. He was wearing a hoodie just like that when he set out of his father’s gated community for a pack of Skittles and an iced tea. He was wearing a hoodie just like that when he called his girlfriend to let her know that a strange man was following him around. He was wearing that hoodie as he fought for his life. The bullet that ultimately ended his life passed directly through that hoodie. Unfortunately, when Trayvon pulled that hoodie over his head and headed out into the warm spring night air of Orlando, he had no idea he would never make it back home.
The simplicity of the photo leaves its meaning up to the viewer’s interpretation. Everyone takes something different away from the photo. Here are the themes that stood out to me:
Unity. The Miami Heat are standing together as a band of brothers. They are dressed uniformly to highlight the sense of unity. Their heads are all pointed to the ground, showing their disapproval of Trayvon’s death. Because they are looking down, it is very tough to recognize the players individually. This is the Heat’s way of saying that this story is bigger than basketball, bigger than themselves even. They show a strong, united front, which is exactly the type of image that those who want justice for Trayvon will need to project.
Symbolism. Like I said earlier, these guys were wearing a similar style of shirt to what Trayvon was wearing during his final moments. The hoodies symbolize not only Trayvon, but the entire population of African-American youth. Efforts have even been made to galvanize a “Million-Hoodie March” in tribute to Trayvon. By wearing the hoodies, the Heat (who only have one white player) are standing up for their people. They are saying that African-Americans are here to stay, and that they aren’t afraid. They are saying that the young man who was killed was in essence one of them, a black brother.
Contrast. The Heat are dressed in all black. Black shirts, black pants, black skin. Directly behind them is a bright orange backdrop, reminiscent of a ray of sunshine. These stark color clashes depict another important layer to Trayvon’s story, which is contrast. Not everyone shares the same opinion on Trayvon Maritn’s death. Some believe that he was an innocent soul, murdered in cold blood for simply being black. Others think that he was legitimately up to no good, and that the man who shot him had a right to “stand his ground” and “defend” himself. The Heat’s black attire and somber facial expressions leads me to believe that they are representing the African-American community, which is in mourning. Meanwhile, the bright background represents those who believe the guy who shot Trayvon had the right to take action.
I found that photo to be incredibly moving. Upon realizing all the symbolism that the photo possesses, and reflecting upon the information I had gathered about Trayvon’s story, I felt a wave of emotion crash over me. I felt pity for Trayvon, and heartbroken for his friends and family. I felt angry at George Zimmerman (Trayvon’s killer) for taking an innocent life. In fact, angry cannot even begin to describe the emotions I felt towards that man. It was a white hot twinge of pain that no word could ever come close to accurately describing. I felt scared, because I am roughly the same age as Trayvon, just a mere seventeen years old. It could just have easily been me. President Obama must have felt similarly because he said that if he “had a son he would look like Trayvon…”. I felt despair because despite the great strides we have made towards freedom and equality for all people, a few knuckleheads like Zimmerman are perpetually attempting to erase them. I felt an eerie sense of deja vu. Yet another young, black life taken by violence. But, most importantly, I felt grateful to the Miami Heat for having both the ingenuity and the guts to pull off such a thought provoking, tear-jerking tribute.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years of the Heat being the most hated team in the NBA. They certainly are polarizing, but they ultimately fall short of being hate-worthy. We use the word “hate” far too much in our society. Hate is a word that should be reserved for the most vile and despicable people on earth. It is utterly ridiculous how people can “hate” LeBron James for switching teams and announcing it on television. I saw pictures of people burning LeBron’s jersey in the streets. I definitely haven’t seen people lighting up George Zimmerman’s mugshot. I am not condoning arson or encouraging people to hate, but we all need to have a reality check and start to put things into perspective.
LeBron James is a basketball player who switched teams, and George Zimmerman is a murderer. We as a society have grouped a professional basketball player who is also a law abiding citizen with a killer. Seriously people? Come on. Hate is too strong of a word to describe basketball, which is at the end of the day just a game.
I am a Boston Celtics fan, but I really would like to see the Heat get the job done. I want to see them win the NBA championship. Why? Because this tribute has showed me that the Heat are more than just a group of basketball players, but that they are a group of young men who are worthy of my respect. That is more than I can say for most people, let alone a pro sports team. Bring it home for Trayvon boys, because I know he is smiling down on you from a better place.