Yesterday, Dave Zirin, probably my favorite sports writer (and favorite radio guest), gave a thorough thesis in the Nation on why people should root for the Miami Heat in the NBA finals. As a person that grew up on the Detroit Pistons during their "Bad Boy" era, I often root for the unliked and under-appreciated. After spending almost a decade in Brooklyn, and relocating to Miami in 2007-2008, the words of elite emcee Rakim still stick in my head, "it ain't where you're from, it's where you're at." With that in mind, let's go Heat.
That being said, I disagree with Dave Zirin that the Heat is the better team on the "Good vs. Evil" spectrum. I also don't think that Heat owner, Micky Arison (and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines), is any better than the owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who moved the team from its beloved Seattle home back when it was the Supersonics because taxpayers wouldn't shell out a $300 million welfare check to build a new stadium.
Micky Arison's legacy in Miami is no less troubling than the "original sin," as Dave describes it, of Oklahoma City Thunder owners, Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon. Similar to Bennett and McClendon, Arison's family demanded hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for the American Airlines Arena so the Heat could play ball. Unlike Seattle, Miami's politicians buckled and said yes. Whether that reflects badly on Arison or on Miami politicians is a topic for another time (or someone else's article) .
Those same politicians often find solace in the fact that they managed to snag a profit sharing scheme with the Heat in exchange for subsidizing the Arena's costs. Just don't ask them how much profit the Heat actually shared with Miami. Miami Dade's Inspector General led an investigation into the team's books after the Miami New Times issued a scathing report saying that the team's owners "repeatedly finessed its books to avoid paying any revenues to the county." On top of that, the Inspector General found that the Heat owed millions to taxpayers for "capital improvements" to the publicly handled, yet privately profitable, arena. None of this even includes the almost $30 million the State of Florida dished out to the arena with the stipulation that it help shelter the homeless on off-nights, something the scores of Miamians sleeping under its Government Center can assure you never happened.
Micky Arison's high-class handout taking is nothing new. Twelve years ago , the New Times did a devastating expose on the Arison empire titled, "Deep Blue Greed." Among other things, the piece outlines how Ted Arison, Micky's late father, mastered the art of tax dodging. He even renounced his U.S. Citizenship to avoid paying taxes way before Facebook founder, Eduardo Saverin, even thought about joining the de-naturalization club.
But perhaps the worst Arison tax transgression takes place on board Carnival Cruise lines. While supposedly being based in Miami, the cruise line incorporated in Panama, allowing it to avoid all sorts of laws that Americans are forced to follow. It only pays a one percent global tax , meaning that a Heat fan buying a jersey from a sports store probably pays a higher percentage in sales tax than Carnival pays in any tax. While many of Carnival's Miami employees are paid decently, such a small percentage of the "Miami-based" company's employees actually call Miami home that they can all fit on one of Carnival's 100 ships. Many of the remaining employees are mostly low paid foreign workers.
Some detractors will still call Micky Arison "Corporate Citizen number 1," largely because of his donations to the New World Symphony and other local charities. But those detractors rarely do the accounting to see if the money he dishes out makes up for the money he owes a city whose growth is still stunted by the Great Recession.
Even the Oklahoma Thunder's move from Seattle, when the city refused to negotiate with corporate welfare dependents, matches up pretty evenly with Arison's barely veiled threat to local group 1Miami when it confronted Arison at Carnival's annual shareholder meeting. In that meeting, he insisted that paying a little more in taxes would mean his "most popular cruise line in the world" would have to relocate... to China.
I am sure there are a lot of nice things to say about Micky Arison. People that have gone to the New World Symphony say it is pretty nice. And despite the disparaging comments made about players like Lebron James, Dave Zirin was right to laud him and his teammates in an a earlier piece for arranging a photo shoot in memory of hometown shooting victim, Trayvon Martin. Another player, Udonis Haslem, took a principled stand on the side of his SW Ranches neighbors against a proposed private immigrant detention center operated by despised prison corporation CCA (Corrections Corporation of America). So it seems that, when circumstances off the court require, Miami Heat players know how to stick up for their fans.
No one can debate how good their game is. On Saturday, as the Heat put a stop to the Celtics, not s single one of the Miami's notoriously fickle fan-base was sitting down in the sports bar downtown where I was watching the game. So when the NBA finals begin tonight with the jump ball, I know who I am rooting for. But it is not Micky Arison.
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