There is one super player in the Eastern Conference but no super teams, which makes me feel kind of hopeful about the Miami Heat’s chances for getting past Philadelphia and reaching the second round of the playoffs.
If that doesn’t sound like much of a goal, or even if you’re feeling a little sorry for this team devoid of dominating stars, think back to Pat Riley’s first season in Miami.
In his role as head coach and master of everything, the Godfather worked deals that
brought Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway to the Heat. Together they went 42-40 in the regular season, not much different than the results we’re seeing now, but then came a first-round matchup with the 72-10 Chicago Bulls in the 1996 playoffs.
Here is a column I wrote at the end of that horrible mismatch, a three-game sweep by the Bulls in which the closest game was 17 points. Dennis Rodman’s spicy autobiography “Bad As I Wanna Be” was released right then, too, which made the whole series feel like a promotional tour for the Worm and a fruitless exercise for the Heat.
“We played hard,” said Miami’s Rex Chapman, but they are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”
Things are so much better now. Even if the Heat had drawn LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the first round this weekend, it couldn’t have been as dismal. They’re plenty they can do against any team in the East these days. So let the 2018 playoffs begin, but not before this reminder of what life was like for Miami and everybody else under the inviolate Jordan Rules.
(From the May 2, 1996 edition of the Palm Beach Post)
By Dave George
A PRIMER ON HOW TO BE GREAT
The Miami Heat took their medicine sitting down Wednesday night, their celebrity coach never leaving his chair in the fourth quarter of a 112-91 loss and their sellout home crowd reduced to gawking at the greatness of the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat weren’t just swept in this best-of-five opening playoff series. They were vacuumed up, bagged and left by the curb of Miami Arena. Total domination, Pat Riley called it, and so it was. Michael Jordan headed for the locker room early, and Scottie Pippen called for his ice bags on the bench. Had this blowout lasted another few minutes, he would have called for his pipe and slippers, too.
“I know one thing I’m going to aspire to next year,” Riley said, and a roomful of reporters leaned forward for a philosophical pearl. “I’m going to make sure the playoff seed has to be six through three. It cannot be seventh through eighth.”
It cannot, in other words, bring the Heat anywhere close to Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs. The No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference is for sparring partners, not contenders. Miami can move up based on the progress made after the great February trade-off. Wednesday, however, was too wobbly to use as a foundation for anything but a fire drill.
“We ran into a good team,” said Rex Chapman, who scored 39 points in a February upset of the Bulls here but only six Wednesday. “We played hard. They are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”
Jimmy Buffet did his best to make this Game 3 worth playing. He sang the national anthem and 15,200 fans, armed with giveaway clacker noisemakers, provided the passionate percussion. This will be remembered, however, as the night the music died. Miami trailed by 31 points at one point and pretty much went through the motions while Chicago’s benchwarmers piled it on.
Chicago will at least get a fight from the New York Knicks. All Miami provided was a vacation.
So overwhelming is Chicago’s power over the masses that all it takes is one Bulls player to make a low-profile team like the Heat an irrelevance in their own building. Wednesday’s pre-game sideshow centered on Dennis Rodman and his bawdy book, advance copies of which are beginning to make the rounds.
On the cover is a photo of the Worm in the nude, holding a basketball where the sun don’t shine and the fig leaves don’t grow. There is a chapter devoted to the intimate details of Rodman’s brief fling with Madonna, which is surprising only in that Madonna didn’t strike first with this subject matter. NBA Commissioner David Stern, at Miami Arena Wednesday to monitor the storm around Chicago’s playoff run, said Rodman “is a phenomenon, maybe the best media creation of his own image that I’ve ever seen.”
Rodman, meanwhile, sat at his locker before the game saying whatever he believed would shock reporters most. “Pat Riley’s time has passed,” he said, and “the Knicks have a yellow streak down their back.” Of Alonzo Mourning, Rodman asked “$15 million for what? He hasn’t accomplished anything to me.”
Rodman wears controversy like a crown, always willing to take the lunacy to another level. Miami counters with a seriousness that is deadly. Zo screams. Riley preens. And all the while the Bulls are laughing.
Blaming Mourning’s lack of production, a popular rationale in the first two blowouts at Chicago, didn’t even fly this time. Zo had 20 points by half time, more even than Jordan, and finished with a game-high 30.
The Bulls, meanwhile, were their usual brutish selves, piling on at every opportunity. Did Rodman really slam home a reverse dunk in the second quarter or was that a preview for his upcoming music video? At some point it ceases to matter.
We have come to that point, of course, and surpassed it. The glorious debut season of Pat Riley has ended in the manner of Kevin Loughery before him.
Sitting down and looking up at the merciless Chicago Bulls.