Nothing happened. There were no reports of riots, no instances of tourist attacks in an area that historically has seen its share of street violence.
When the Miami Heat, consensus favorites to win the NBA championship, blew the final series and lost the deciding game at home to an underdog and less talented Dallas team, fans strolled out of the American Airlines Arena, got into their cars, exited lots with inflated prices, and quietly drove home. There were no demonstrations of angst or anger outside the sporting venue, no confrontations with men in blue. All that police officers assigned to the event were left to do was stop traffic on Biscayne Boulevard long enough for departing fans to cross safely.
Contrast this with images from Vancouver a few days later. The Canucks attained the best record in the NHL during the regular season, and marched to the Stanley Cup finals as the favorite to defeat the Boston Bruins, a team with more grit than goals. The series went to a deciding game seven, played in Vancouver, where the home team had not lost. Then it all fell apart. Roberto Luongo, the all-star goaltender whom many have for years contended is the best in the game despite a scarcity of playoff accomplishments, gave up four goals to an underwhelming Boston offense. The rest of the Canucks team fared no better, succumbing 4-0 to the Bruins.
While the visitors celebrated their first Stanley Cup championship in nearly forty years, taking turns skating around the playing ice with the trophy held aloft, things quickly turned ugly outside the Rogers Arena. Film and photos from Vancouver displayed a city in chaos. Disgruntled fans looted nearby businesses, vandalized property and set police cars on fire. Police officers squared off against rioters, dodging flying objects, while non-participating fans stood by and watched.
Vancouver officials have blamed the violent display on fifty thugs whom they insist do not represent Canucks fans or the city of Vancouver. But in 1994, when the New York Rangers overcame a three-games-to-two deficit to defeat the Canucks in the series finale, Vancouver fans had a similar reaction.
I have been to Vancouver twice and my memories of the area are quite different from the media images of recent days. I recall a clean, inviting, pedestrian-friendly city with ethnic neighborhoods, restaurants and parks overlooking a picturesque bay. People were so friendly that it aroused my New Yorker’s mistrust: surely, the strangers who came up to us and offered help when they saw us struggling with a city map were up to no good!
The riots which last week engulfed the city were likely the result of national frustration. It has been nearly two decades since a Canadian team took home the ultimate prize in a sport Canadians claim as their own. Since 1993, five Canadian teams reached the Stanley Cup finals, all losing to American teams, with four of the five series extending to seven games. The latest near miss caused an eruption of emotion by the frustrated Vancouver fans, ardent in their support of their sport and their team.
There is a reason why Miami fans reacted differently. The city has long been dubbed a haven of frontrunners, with sporting events routinely playing before half-empty stadiums and arenas. The season-long excitement caused by LeBron James’ decision to bring his talents to South Beach waned as fans began their parade from the American Airlines Arena with time expiring in game six.
Miami fans will not change. They will exercise selective passion and sell out only big events, not the Thursday afternoon matchup of losing teams. Thus, Miami will never match Vancouver as a sports town. After all, nothing says “fan loyalty” like burning police cars.