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NINE-YEAR-OLD JACK MEYER stands 4' 11" and plays center for the Lions of the Temple Beth Am youth basketball league in Pinecrest, Fla. Out of 18 teams, the Lions made it all the way to the championship game this season, but late in the second half they fell apart and then, after the game, so did Jack. "He broke down crying," says his father, Jim Meyer. "We had a long talk afterward about the ups and downs of sports, about loving the game even when you lose." That was in late May.
On June 5, Jim took Jack to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and the Celtics at American Airlines Arena. Jack had gone to his first Heat game when he was four and had been terrified by the shrieks of the public-address announcer and the flames that shot up during player introductions. But by the fourth quarter of that game, he felt at home in the arena, and he pleaded with his father to take him back.
Jim is an attorney at Harper Meyer, a Miami law firm, and one of his partners owns season tickets above the tunnel leading to the Heat locker room. Sometimes the partner lets Jim and Jack use those seats. Other times, they buy from Ticketmaster or Stubhub. They've spent some games in the standing-room-only sections and others outside the arena, just because Jack wants to be there. They go to about a dozen games a year. "Now I love the fire," he says.
For every birthday, Jack receives a Heat jersey, with his last name on the back and his new age. Thus, the current model reads: MEYER 09. He wears the jersey six days a week. He reads the box score in the local newspaper before his parents wake up. He can tell you the birthdays, colleges and career histories of just about every player on the team. Two summers ago, when LeBron James announced he was joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, Jack and his parents got the news while on vacation at a hotel in Cocoa Beach. Jack screamed with joy.
From the seats above the Heat tunnel, Jack hollers to James, "My favorite holiday is LeBronica!" in hopes that James will fling him his headband. Amused, James has tossed him three headbands, which Jack stores in a glass case. Jack mailed James a thank-you note this season and received a form letter in return, with the heading "Dear Fan." Jim scratched out "Fan" and wrote "Jack." "LeBron is truly one of the most important people in my life," Jack says.
Jim's partner Steve Hagen gave him the two seats over the tunnel for Game 5. The series stood at two games apiece. The Heat started well enough, leading by eight points after the first quarter, but the team crumbled in the third, and with about a minute left Jack realized Miami was going to lose. Jim was reminded of last year's Finals, when the Heat fell to the Mavericks, and Jack wept along with Bosh, then was devastated for weeks.
"I could see him fighting it again," Jim says. "He was wringing his hands. He almost started to cry a couple times. But he sucked it up."
After the final buzzer (Celtics 94, Heat 90) Jack stood and scooted past the fans in his row, who let him position himself directly over the tunnel, next to a man lamenting how much money he had blown on the tickets. With the Heat now trailing three games to two, one loss from elimination, it was not the time to ask James for a headband. Jack screamed something different, "Good job! Good effort!" over and over again, no fewer than seven times. James kept his head bowed, but the ESPN microphones picked up Jack's high-pitched voice, overwhelming announcer Mike Breen's. When Jack returned to his seat, he told his dad, "Are you proud of me? I took it like a man. I told the players they did a good job."
The next morning Jim went to work at his firm, as if it were any other day. His assistant and paralegal, who had heard Jack's unmistakable voice on TV, told him, "You need to see what's happening." The video of Jack's pep talk had gone viral. A newspaper in South Florida was calling for an interview, and so was a radio station in Boston. A new Twitter account, @goodjobkid, picked up more than 4,000 followers. Bloggers debated whether Jack was a Boston fan mocking the Heat or a Miami fan mocking the Heat. Given the cynicism that accompanies the team, he couldn't possibly be a young boy exhorting his hometown team.
"There was some nastiness," Jim says. "He took some vitriol."