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Kevin Schnepf, Published June 07 2011

Schnepf: No love for Heat, even in Mitchell

Fargo - Do you get the feeling the entire universe – except for those who live in Miami – hate LeBron James and the NBA basketball team known as the Heat?

On a mission to disprove this notion, I figured I would talk to someone in Mitchell, S.D., of all places. The city of 15,000 known for the Corn Palace is also the home of Mike Miller – who now plays with LeBron and the Heat.

You would think the fine folks from Mitchell would be cheering for Miami to beat the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals – which continue tonight with Game 4.

Not so, according to 53-year-old Steve Culhane, born and raised in Mitchell, where he now owns the Scoreboard Pub and Grille.

“I would say most people in this town want Mike Miller to play well, but I think 8 out of 10 people here hope Dallas wins,” Culhane said. “It’s no different in Mitchell than it is nationally.”

It’s really no secret the entire universe dislikes LeBron for “The Decision” – last summer’s overhyped primetime TV special in which he announced he would be moving his talents from Cleveland to South Beach.

By joining forces with All-Stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, it became a classic example of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Sure, great NBA players have forced trades every once in a while, but never to the degree that it has created an instant championship team. Larry Bird never considered teaming up with Magic Johnson. Michael Jordan never demanded to be playing with John Stockton.

Nor did you ever see Bird or Jordan celebrating a 15-point lead with 7 minutes remaining as if the game was over. But last Thursday night, there was LeBron and Wade chest bumping each other - forgetting to play the final seven minutes and allowing the Mavs to stage one of the biggest comeback wins in NBA Finals history.

“You know, LeBron is probably a great guy,” Culhane said. “It’s just the way he stuck his nose up at Cleveland that irritated so many people.”

About the only feel-good story that has been emanating from the Heat during these Finals has been Mike Miller. It’s not so much that the 31-year-old Miller helped the Heat win Game 1, but rather what he has been dealing with off the court.

Up until last week, his two-week-old daughter was in intensive care after being born with four holes in her heart. Even before the birth of his third child, Miller has donated more than a million dollars to children’s hospitals - including Sanford Health in Sioux Falls.

It was yet another reason Mitchell residents are still gaga over Miller – just like they were when he led Mitchell High School to state championships his sophomore and senior years.

Or just like they were when college coaches like Denny Crum, Tubby Smith, Tom Davis, Norm Stewart, Roy Williams, Steve Lavin and Billy Donovan arrived in Mitchell to watch Miller play in a pick-up game.

“I remember standing next to Norm Stewart,” Culhane said, referring to the former Missouri coach. “I asked him ‘Do you really think he can play at the major college level?’”

Stewart answered: “If he comes to Missouri he will be the freshman player of the year in the Big 12 Conference.”

Of course, Miller chose Donovan and Florida where he played for three seasons before becoming a first-round NBA draft pick and rookie-of-year for Orlando. After stints with the Grizzlies, Timberwolves and Wizards, Miller became a part of the team that Lebron built.

“It was kind of a no-brainer Mike wanted to go play with Lebron,” Culhane said. “I know they are real good friends.”

These days, Lebron needs all the friends he can get. Even Culhane can’t bring himself to cheer for him.

“I’m rooting for Dallas … but I hope Mikes plays well.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com