‘Bandwagon Cam’ captures die-hard lifelong Heat fan

The Wizards’ much-applauded Bandwagon Cam captured 10 or so Heat fans inside Verizon Center on Wednesday night, over the course of five different camera shots. Because of a tweet from @HoopsDistrict, though, one shot capturing two particular Heat fans became the symbol of the Bandwagon Cam, and those two fans became its face.

That original tweet was retweeted more than 1,100 times. Darren Rovell tweeted the same image. Without crediting the source, ESPN also tweeted the same image, which was retweeted more than 8,900 times. And the image spread: those same two fans showed up on Bleacher Report, on Deadspin, on Huffington Post, on SB Nation, on Reddit, on Facebook and everywhere else people post images of sports. This couple now represented bandwagon fans in D.C.

As it turns out, they’re about as far from bandwagon fans as you can get.

Those fans — Tina Nguyen and Jon Robert, both 29 — were Heat season ticket holders when Miami went 15-67, and they still went to almost every game. Jon is a South Florida native who has rooted for the Heat for nearly as long as the franchise has existed. Among his prized possessions: copies of the Miami Herald from each of the team’s three title runs. His jersey of choice Wednesday night? An Udonis Haslem model, which is not exactly the standard bandwagon model.

He once bought Tim Hardaway a beer, speeding to the bar when a friend told him who was there. He has a photo of himself with Penny Hardaway when the latter played for the Heat. He met Brian Grant in a South Florida Target. He was at a Tribe Called Quest show in Fort Lauderdale with Shaq. He ran into Dorell Wright outside a South Florida Best Buy on Christmas Eve. He didn’t have a ticket to the 2012 Finals but celebrated in a nearby bar, then rushed over to arena to join in the celebration. For years and years  — through Alonzo Mourning and Glen Rice, through P.J. Brown and Jason Williams — basketball season was about the Heat.

“That was ingrained in my life, that was my day in and day out,” he said. “When’s the next game, where are we watching the next game, what’s going on with the team? Nothing special, just like any other die-hard  fan of a team.”

Oh, and the best part? When LeBron James announced his decision to join the Heat — the moment that began the most recent surge of Heat bandwagon fandom — Jon was on the phone with a friend who is also a longtime Heat fan. They were crushed.

“I’m such a Heat purist, I was actually very unhappy,” he told me this week. “We were clenching our fists. We were like, ‘No, please don’t, please don’t.’ We’re die-hard Dwyane Wade fans. In our eyes, it was Wade’s team, and we didn’t want LeBron.”

But, of course, Jon wasn’t going to abandon his longtime favorite team just because they were now popular. He moved around Florida in recent years; his girlfriend Tina moved to the Washington area about four years ago, and Jon joined her about two years later. He’s seen the Heat several times since moving here, both in Washington and in Philadelphia, and the couple splurged for lower-level tickets Wednesday night, showing up when the doors opened.

They saw a camera focusing on them well before the game started, but thought nothing of it. Then, in the first quarter, the Bandwagon Cam happened. Jon thought it was a Kiss Cam at first and got ready for a smooch. Tina tried moving to watch her reaction on the big screen, then realized this must have been taped earlier. She thought it was funny; he, at first, did not.

“I actually got pretty upset at first, I have to admit,” he said. “I was like are you kidding me? Bandwagon fan? I was born and raised with this team.”

“Of course we knew it was a joke, but he was like, ‘Man, I’m from Miami, born and raised, I love this team,’ ” Tina told me. “I was like honey, clearly that’s going to happen. They think everyone’s a bandwagon fan. But it’s funny. I know how much he loves them, and he always gets heat for that.”

So to speak.

A nearby fan — a Los Angeles native who still roots for the Lakers — offered sympathetic words to Jon about how often he’s mistaken for a bandwagon fan. And by the end of the night — as one friend after another texted Jon and Tina about their newfound fame — he had gotten over the slight.

“My co-workers were like: ‘You’re on Deadspin! You’re on The Washington Post! You’re on ESPN!’ ” Tina said with a laugh. “We totally don’t mind. We know that we’re fans, all of our friends know that we’re fans, I’m always tweeting about the Heat, totally obnoxious, photos of myself with jerseys. All of our friends know this is what we do every year. For them and for us, it’s the most hilarious thing.”

“For them to pick us out of that crowd, and for it to blow up the way it did, it’s insane,” Jon agreed. “I’m one of the most true fans you’ll ever meet, and I’m becoming the poster boy for bandwagoners. If there’s any downside to it, that’s it. But I definitely see how funny it is, and the irony.”

Which brings us to one final question: What do these longtime Miami Heat fans think about the team’s bandwagon fans?  Well, they understand the criticism, let’s put it that way.

“The minute LeBron went to Miami, I started getting so much backlash for being a Heat fan,” Jon said. “There’s that big bandwagon element, which I completely understand.”

Tina doesn’t mind the bandwagon fans, but she gets angry to see fans leaving home games early when Miami is behind. When they had season tickets they would stay to the last second, win or lose; she can’t understand why anyone lucky enough to be in the arena wouldn’t feel the same way. Still, she’s more understanding than a lot of people.

“If you’re not a real fan, I could care less, but I definitely get jealous seeing people there, and then leaving. That’s where it gets not-cool,” she told me. “But if you’re a fan of the sport and you love it, that’s all you. No one should judge who you love or why you love them.” 

(Thanks to Goat for the tip.)

(Note: An earlier version of this item completely screwed up Jon Robert’s name.)

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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