NBA is checking to see if Jupiter’s Billy Gabor is the league’s oldest living former player

 

We’ve written before about Jupiter’s Billy Gabor, the former pro basketball player who was around for the NBA’s inaugural season.

Well, Billy the Bullet, feisty point guard of the old Syracuse Nationals, continues to earn a headline every now and then.

Bill Gabor, photographed at his home in Jupiter in 2014, holding an engraved ice bucket. “When we won in 1955, we didn’t get anything from the NBA,” he said. “The stockholders gave us this engraved ice bucket.” The engraving reads “Presented to Billy Gabor World Champions Syracuse Nationals 1954-1955 by the Stockholders.” (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

According to the best research I can muster, and with backing from the Peach Basket Society, a blog that tries valiantly to stay up with such things, it appears that Gabor just might be the NBA’s oldest living player.

Billy is 95 and still volunteers once a week at the Jupiter Medical Center. He no longer pushes wheelchairs around with patients half his age but stays busy with clerical chores there.

The daily, 3-mile walks from his beachfront apartment to the Jupiter Pier ended a few years ago, too. Too hot. Too far.

Still, his memories of his playing days remain sharp and there’s never been one of his stories that didn’t check out. I thought of him the other day when news of John Kundla’s passing stirred up a few nostalgic newspaper accounts. Kundla had been the oldest living former NBA coach at 101 and he was one of several Naismith Hall of Fame members from the great Minneapolis Lakers teams of the 1950’s.

Gabor remembers all of those guys well because he played against them.

George Mikan, the 6-foot-10 pioneer who averaged 27.4 points per game in the NBA’s opening season of 1949-50.

Jim Pollard, the “Kangaroo Kid.” Vern Mikkelsen, the power forward who led the league in fouling out for three straight seasons. Slater Martin, the hard-driving guard from Texas.

What we’re talking about is the NBA’s first super team, because those Lakers won four of the league’s first five championships, including the 1950 Finals against Gabor’s Syracuse team.

“Mikan was very slow and he couldn’t jump like they do today,” said Gabor, “but he was so strong he would just turn around and shoot a hook shot and nobody could do anything about it.”

Mikan averaged 32.2 points per game in that championship series against the Nationals, including 40 in the Game 6 clincher, which drew a crowd of 9,812 to the old Minneapolis Auditorium. That hook shot of his, Gabor remembers, was just as effective with either hand.

Gabor averaged 7.8 points in that series. He came to the NBA as a 27-year-old rookie, his career delayed by serving as a World War II bombardier. Syracuse’s best player at the time was Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes.

A couple more fun tidbits from those Lakers teams. Bud Grant, the Minnesota Vikings coach, played a couple of seasons of pro basketball there in his youth. Also, Pollard later was the coach of the Miami Floridians of the old ABA.

Here is the breakdown, as far as I can determine, of the oldest living former NBA players. It’s easy to be wrong on something like this, and a little morbid in the searching, but there’s a good chance Billy leads the list. (Another man, Nick Shaback, played for the Cleveland Rams of the Basketball Association of America, a forerunner and later a merger partner with the NBA. Tough to say whether that qualifies in this particular discussion, but he will be 99 in September.)

 

  1. Billy Gabor, Syracuse Nationals, 95 years old
  2. Whitey Von Nieda, Tri-Cities Blackhawks, also 95 but one month younger
  3. Johnny Macknowski, Syracuse Nationals, 94
  4. John Oldham, Fort Wayne Pistons, 94
  5. Wayne See, Waterloo Hawks, 93
  6. Gene Stump, Waterloo Hawks, 93
  7. Jim Riffey, Fort Wayne Pistons, 93

The NBA communications department told me they are trying to verify this list but it’s not the sort of thing that becomes a high priority. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, way down the list, here’s an honorable mention for a guy whose local tie is  always an honor to mention. Bob Cousy, for years a regular at Bear Lakes County Club in West Palm Beach, will be 89 on Aug. 9.

[No matter what Vegas says, not expecting major step back for Dolphins]

[1972 Dolphins were a different breed in an entirely different era]

[Astros and Nats might bring World Series buzz back to WPB next spring]

Baseball is a first but Miami’s already had its share of All-Star games in other sports

Tuesday may be the first baseball All-Star Game to visit Miami but South Florida is not entirely new to this high grade of sporting exhibition.

[RELATED: Photos from All-Star festivities]

The NBA All-Star Game was played at the old Miami Arena in Overtown in 1990. The East won 130-113 and few other details need mentioning, except that Pat Riley was the coach of the losing Western Conference team.

MIAMI, FL – JULY 27: Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and former Marlin Jeff Conine looks on for the unveiling of the 2017 All-Star Game logo before the game between the Miami Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies at Marlins Park on July 27, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

The NHL All-Star Game came to Sunrise in 2003 and it was another defense-optional affair, won 6-5 in overtime by the West.

Miami’s had the NFL Pro Bowl, too, on numerous occasions. Most recently it was a 41-34 win for the AFC in 2010 at what then was known as Sun Life Stadium.

There was one major missed opportunity, however. Baseball awarded the 2000 All-Star Game the Florida Marlins and the football stadium they shared with the Dolphins but soon took it back in response to a fire sale of top Marlins players in preparation for a sale of the team.

Overall, though, that’s a lot of major star power for the Magic City, a bonus to go with Super Bowls and World Series appearances and such.

In the end, any excuse to take a midseason break in Miami is a good one.

 

Think you can predict the Heat’s offseason moves? Remember 2003 before answering

You think you know what will  happen with the Miami Heat in Thursday’s NBA draft and the free-agency period beyond?

Nobody knows. Nobody could.

There are too many moving parts in this process, especially with Pat Riley in charge of it.

Dwyane Wade and his son with Pat Riley after the Heat selected Wade with the No. 5 pick in the 2003 draft.
(File photo)

Look back to 2003, the year that Miami made its most successful first-round pick ever – Dwyane Wade. The followed happened that offseason, one seismic step after another, and the most astonishing news of all broke just days before the start of the regular season. Remember?

Well, here it all is, with the blockbuster headline buried near the bottom of the list, startling enough to make Wade wonder if he was even starting his career with a stable franchise.

  • Junior Dwyane Wade leads Marquette to the Final Four but the Golden Eagles get blown out by Kansas 94-61 by Kansas. Wade, who was married with a 1-year-old son at the time, said “I’m known for having a great season but I didn’t go out a winner, so it will be a tough decision.” Luckily for the Heat, he decides to leave college one year early and enter the draft.
  • Wade works out in June for at least nine teams, including Miami, which is coming off a 25-57 season and has the No. 5 overall pick.
  • Certain stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh come off the draft board before the Heat can act but Riley takes Wade and says “we feel like we have, contrary to what people might think and other than LeBron, one of the best players, if not the best player in the draft.”
  • The agent for Heat point guard Anthony Carter blows it by failing to inform the team that his player wants to exercise his option for the coming season. When the deadline passes without notification, Riley no longer is obligated to pay Carter his salary and the option on keeping him becomes the team’s instead. The Heat let Carter go and gain an additional $4 million to spend on free agents.
  • Riley speaks generally with reporters about the possibility of saving his money for the next offseason, when Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett might be available as free agents.
  • Riley makes a one-year offer to Alonzo Mourning, who missed the previous season with a kidney ailment, but is satisfied to let the greatest player in Heat history go. The New Jersey Nets sign Zo to a four-year deal and he says he is going because he is trying to get a ring and can’t wait for the Heat to get better.
  • Riley signs Elton Brand to a six-year offer sheet but the Los Angeles Clippers match the offer and keep the free agent.
  • Riley goes after the Clippers again, signing Lamar Odom to an offer sheet for six years and $65 million. This time the Clippers can’t match and Odom joins Miami.
  • Wade plays his first exhibition game in Puerto Rico against the Philadelphia 76ers and shows immediate promise with 18 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots.
  • Wade signs his rookie contract for three years at $8.5 million with a team option for a fourth year.
  • Riley quits as Heat coach four days before the regular-season opener and names assistant Stan Van Gundy to replace him. Riley says he will remain as team president for the final two years of his 10-year Heat contract, adding “I feel the time is right because this team is headed in another direction. It’s turned around. It’s fresh. It needs another voice.” Riley is 58.
  • Miami goes 42-40 and makes the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. After beating the Hornets in the first round, the season ends in the conference semifinals against Indiana.
  • Riley tears it all up and rebuilds the following summer, trading Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal.

 

It couldn’t possibly be as dramatic as all that this offseason, right?

Well, I’m not predicting anything. Riley won’t let me or anybody else do that, and he likes it that way.

[Koepka and Berger make it two wins in a row for PB County high school products]

[LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals but he’s a long way from being a loser]

[Thermodynamics of NHL life: Players on ice and coaches on hot seats]

 

LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals appearances, but he’s a long way from being a loser

Let the LeBron bashing begin. Oh, wait, it never stopped?

Pretty amazing that an athlete this comprehensively talented could be laughed at as a loser, but Cleveland’s loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals on Monday night has unleashed the usual wave of social-media silliness.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James speaks at a news conference after Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 12, 2017. The Warriors won 129-120 to win the NBA championship. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

LeBron brings it on himself, no doubt, appearing always to be the guy who gets whatever he wants in terms of building a team worthy of his participation, but there needs to be a little reality to go with the rants about his 3-5 record in the NBA Finals.

Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA Finals appearances despite at times having Hall of Fame teammates like Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. The Boston Celtics dynasty of Bill Russell and company wouldn’t let West and the Lakers close the deal and yet West wasn’t called a loser.

Instead, he got the nickname of “Mr. Clutch.” He was voted the NBA Finals MVP in 1969 in a losing effort. His silhouette was chosen as the logo for the NBA.

Wilt the Stilt was 2-4 in the NBA Finals and there never has been a more physically imposing athlete than Chamberlain was in his time.

Hey, they’re not all going to be Michael Jordan, 6-0 in the championship series. Doesn’t mean that everyone else stinks.

In South Florida LeBron will always be appreciated for bringing two NBA titles to Miami and loathed for bolting to Cleveland and grumbled about for the two NBA Finals when he and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t win.

Take a look at the numbers, though. Wade, beloved for bringing the first title to the Heat before the Big Three era had arrived, was the MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals while averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in a six-game series win over Dallas. He shot 47 percent, too. Can’t do much more than that, right?

Well, LeBron just did in this five-game series loss to the Warriors.

James averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists while shooting 56 percent against the Warriors.

Those numbers in defeat were even greater than LeBron’s stats in his three NBA Finals MVP performances with the Heat and the Cavs.

“With him, the negativity that surrounds him (LeBron), honestly, to me, I think is so unjust and so unfair,” West told ESPN last summer. “Take him off of the team and see how these teams do. That’s all you have to do. Take him off. And it frustrates the heck out of me when I see some of these players who play this game at an enormously high level get criticized because their teams quote, ‘Can’t win the big one.’ The damn guy gets his teams there every year.”

[Panthers hire new coach but how long before he’s on the hot seat like most other NHL bosses?]

[Predicting a 4-1 start to the season for Miami Dolphins]

[Malik Zaire is what Gators want, but what they need is for Feleipe Franks to win job]

Not saying that I love LeBron because that’s not true, but it makes little sense to hate him the way that some people do.

If he were a free agent this summer and available to the Heat, would you hate the idea of Pat Riley getting a meeting?

When fishing for NBA whales, better know the peculiar traits of each species

 

Pat Riley invented the notion of hunting for “whales” in NBA free agency. You know, the biggest of the big in terms of talent, which implies the ability to turn a team into a championship contender overnight plus, of course, the immense amount of money they must be fed.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (No. 32) of the Los Angeles Clippers. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Some of the names being thrown around this year don’t seem to fit the category all that naturally for me. Sure, the current salary structure may indicate maximum contracts are due, but does the player’s actual production deserve that special designation?

Let’s say Miami could get a shot at the following free agents, though in some cases it is ridiculous to ponder, and let’s separate them out by their particular species of whale.

Blue whale (Largest animal on earth at 69 to 90-plus feet in length) – We’re talking Kevin Durant here. He won’t be leaving the Warriors, of course, but what a splash he would make with any new team.

Finback whale (72-82 feet) – It’s a stretch but I’ll put Blake Griffin here because he averages 21 points and close to 10 rebounds per game and has high visibility from appearances in several national TV commercials. Guy gets injured every playoff season, though, and his attitude is suspect.

Right whale (45-60 feet) – Here we find Gordon Hayward, just once an All-Star, and Chris Paul. The first is a sensational shooter but is not always in monster mode. The second, Paul, is a trusted leader and a tough competitor but needs to be teamed with other top stars in order to chase a title.

Sperm whale (35-60 feet) – Deliberately leaving this one blank so that none of you goofballs out there start snickering.

Humpback whale (42-50 feet) – Here we find Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap and Miami’s Dion Waiters, three guys who lack the consistency to scare you every night. Dwyane Wade could fit this, too, if he options out of the $24 million that Chicago owes him, which I would not advise.

Minke whale (28-30 feet) – Shaun Livingston and Patty Mills are postseason tough but can’t rate them much higher on the food chain if they’re not automatic starters.

Beluga whale (13-15 feet) – JJ Reddick, Jrue Holiday and Taj Gibson. There’s a lot to like about all of these guys but they would still be role players on a great team.

Narwhal (13-15) feet) – This animal is just plain gnarly, with a long tusk protruding from its mouth and plenty of other traits that only Charles Darwin could love. I’m thinking Kelly Olynyk here, right?

[Malik Zaire is what Gators want, but what they need is Franks as starting QB]

[Will Trubisky match numbers of Tannehill, another lightly-used college QB?]

[From the day he left high school, LeBron was compared to Magic Johnson]

 

Warriors in six games, and this time LeBron won’t be able to stop it

Nobody much cares to hear about it now, but I correctly predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the 2016 NBA Finals.

Not precisely, mind you, since my guess was Cleveland in six games over Golden State and not seven, as it turned out to be. Still, with LeBron James climbing out of a 3-1 hole in the series, the whole thing is fairly amazing. The Cavs winning, of course, and me actually being right for a change.

 

Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant prepares to shoot during practice on Wednesday in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors face the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, June 1. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

So with Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals upon us, let’s take another stab at it.

The pick is not so exotic this time. In fact, my call of Golden State in six games falls right in line with many others in the business.

Kevin Durant is the reason. He’s good to go for 30 points or more any night, and the Warriors were pretty great before he joined them last summer.

Russell Westbrook will get the 2017 MVP award later this month but until that happens it is fair to say that Golden State has all the MVP winners since LeBron’s last trophy in 2013  – Durant in 2014 and Steph Curry the last two years. That’s just too much firepower to overcome, though LeBron will bust a gut trying.

Add in the Warriors’ home-court advantage and the feeling gets stronger.

Could LeBron win a Game 7 at Oracle Arena? He did last year. Doing it twice in two years is asking too much of anyone, however, even with a teammate like Kyrie Irving, whose three-pointer in the final minute won the deciding game last June.

As for looking at the regular-season series between the Cavs and Warriors, a 1-1 split, there’s no much to glean from there. Last year Golden State won both regular-season matchups but it didn’t mean a thing in the Finals, when Cleveland’s aggressive defense limited Curry to 22.6 points per game and a severe loss of confidence.

Durant is the answer to that problem in these Finals. He also is deadly from any range and will sting the Cavs often enough to get Curry more open shots.

[LeBron was predicted to be this great the day he left high school]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

If any of this turns out to be wrong, we’ll try it again next year with the same two teams. The Warriors and Cavs are going to be an NBA Finals thing for a while longer. The only way that changes is if LeBron begins to fade noticeably and if somebody else in the East grows up. Not all that likely in either case.

The best news of all is that all the major players are healthy for this series. If that holds true, there should be enough electricity here to make up for an ultimately meaningless postseason so far.

Every amazing thing we’re seeing from LeBron was predicted on the day he left high school

 

All right, so this LeBron James guy is pretty good.

Here he is again, cruising into the Eastern Conference finals with…oh, what does it matter which team he is on at a particular moment?

TORONTO – Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James slam-dunks past Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) during  Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Whoever has this guy is going places, as demonstrated by the fact that LeBron will be playing in his seventh consecutive NBA Finals if the Cavaliers get there this year, and surely they will.

I thought it might be fun to look back at coverage from the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper on the day LeBron was drafted to see what people in the industry were saying about him. Of course, every indicator was great. The guy came straight out of high school to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2003 NBA draft.

Could anyone have seen all this coming, however, with absolute certainty?

Consider that LeBron averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists in his senior season at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

His career numbers in the NBA postseason against the best of the best aren’t much different – 28.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

Here is what LeBron said about his expectations on the day he was drafted.

“As a 6-8 point guard, I can rebound and do what Jason Kidd does,” James said. “There’s a lot of mismatches for a 6-8 point guard, it’s like going back to the Magic Johnson days. At whatever position I’ll play, I’ll bring the willingness to win because I don’t accept losing very well.”

Cavs teammate Darius Miles clearly agreed. He took one look at the high-schooler and said “LeBron’s like one in a million. There was Magic Johnson, now it’s LeBron James.”

[60th anniversary of Herb Score’s brutal baseball injury]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

[Draft confirms Adam Gase has confidence in himself and his plan]

Then there was the world association game played by ESPN’s talking heads. Going around the table, each gave a quick one-word reaction to the simple prompt of “LeBron James.”

Jay Bilas’ answer was “Springfield.”

No pressure, huh?

Most amazing of all when compared to today’s numbers, LeBron’s rookie contract, regulated by an established pay scale, was $18 million for four years.

Last year, LeBron’s agent told GQ magazine that the star’s current Nike contract is worth more than $1 billion all by itself.

Russell Westbrook is true stats machine, but nobody ever did it like the Big O

 

 

First, allow me to establish my credentials as an old stick in the mud who does not automatically agree that the latest thing is always the greatest thing.

Second, let me state that there will never be another Oscar Robertson, and that will be true even if Russell Westbrook matches the Big O’s landmark achievement of averaging a triple-double for an entire season, the only player ever to do that.

Westbrook is a wonder, no doubt. He leads the NBA in scoring at 31.4 points per game, ranks third in assists at 10.4 and 10th in rebounding at 10.5. That comes out to a triple-double more nights than not, and on some nights the mere stats alone don’t really do justice to Russ’ dominance.

On Monday night, for instance, he rallied Oklahoma City to a victory over Dallas even though the Thunder trailed by 13 points with 3:30 to play. Twelve of OKC’s final 14 points were scored by Westbrook, including the game-winning jumper with seven seconds to play.

Can’t tell you if Robertson ever did anything like that. The stats weren’t as precise or as faithfully recorded during his NBA career, which stretched from 1961-74. On top of that, you couldn’t catch every Cincinnati Royals or Milwaukee Bucks game on television back then.

What I can tell you is that the Big O didn’t have the luxury of the three-point shot, which was not yet adopted by the league. He also played in a nine-team NBA during his banner season of 1961-62, when he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists, which means there would have been fewer players signed just to fill roster spots and thus tighter talent all around.

Here, though, is the real stunner. If you total up all the numbers, Robertson’s first five seasons in the league produced an overall triple-double average – 30.3 points, 10.4 rebound and 10.6 assists.

For Westbrook, on the other hand, it is only this season, his ninth in the league, that he is averaging double-digits in rebounds. The last two seasons he has averaged doubles in assists, but not before.

What’s more, it’s difficult for me to believe that a powerful and intimidating point guard like Robertson, so much stronger than his peers, would be a turnover machine. Westbrook has led the league in turnovers twice and may do it again this year.

Again, I’m not saying that Westbrook is overrated or anything. The guy is great. It’s just a matter of emphasizing Robertson’s legendary ability to do it all, and to do it for so long. Just because we didn’t see it on television doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

[NFL got what it deserved when Tom Brady’s jersey went missing]

[Look to Spo’s history as a player for toughness that turned Heat around]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for Heat]

As an addendum, this season is the closest that LeBron James has ever come to averaging a double-double for an entire year. Through Monday’s games he was averaging 26.0 points, 8.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds.

The closest Michael Jordan ever came to a full season triple-double was 1988-89, when he averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists. He was 25.

Look to Spo’s history as a player for the toughness that helped turn season around

From 11-30 to the NBA playoffs is an incredible journey that the Miami Heat still haven’t completed, but the question is the same no matter how this turns out.

How does a coach keep grinding the way Erik Spoelstra always does, whether his team seems bound for a world championship or the draft lottery?

MIAMI – Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra watches during the second half of a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 19. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

That’s one heck of a range when it comes to expectations and achievement and personal satisfaction, and it’s one that didn’t always hold Pat Riley’s attention quite as well during his coaching days.

Riley, of course, was a brilliant athlete in high school, good enough to have Adolph Rupp chasing him at Kentucky and brawny enough to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys coming out of college. All he ever knew was winning when he got to the NBA, and he can’t stand to be away from it for long.

Spoelstra was just the opposite, scrapping for everything he got as a point guard who weighed just 98 pounds as a high school freshman. There’s an old USA Today story that tells of Spo taking 30,000 jump shots from three-point range one summer in order to stretch and improve his skills.

Yeah, that’s the kind of doggedness that comes in handy later when you’re 11-30.

Eventually Spoelstra earned a Div. I scholarship offer, but it wasn’t from UCLA or North Carolina. Instead he played at the small college in his Oregon hometown, the University of Portland.

Must have played pretty well, too, because he was named the Freshman of the Year in the West Coast Conference. Loyola-Marymount owned that league at the time, averaging 110 points per game, and Gonzaga, a No. 1 seed in the ongoing NCAA tournament, owns it today.

Problem is, the Portland Pilots weren’t very good overall. They started 0-13 in Spo’s first season there and wound up 2-26. It’s a real challenge not to quit on a team like that.

Stick with it, though, and 11-30 somewhere way down the line doesn’t rattle you as much as it might others.

Spo kept pounding away, starting 97 games in four years, which ranks ninth on Portland’s all-time list. He learned how to create scoring opportunities for teammates, ranking fifth on the school’s career list for assists, and how to make the most of his own chances, ranking fourth all-time at Portland with a free-throw percentage of .824.

That’s a lot of serious stat mileage for a player whose individual career numbers – 9.2 points, 4.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds – don’t exactly knock you out. Spo pushed every possible hot button, though, even though the Pilots never won more than 11 games during his four-year college career.

Is that the kind of guy you want coaching your team in the midst of an 11-30 nightmare? Well, sure, especially if he also has found great success, as in back-to-back NBA titles with the Big Three.

[Only 3 Gator teams ever made it to Sweet 16 more easily than this one]

[Most get in free for inaugural NCAA hoops title game in 1939]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

There’s something here for everyone on the Heat roster, a coach who understands the psychological torture of losing, a coach who remembers what it’s like to be overlooked, and a coach who will accept only the highest standards no matter what anybody else thinks or says about his team.

What the team has achieved and what it continues to chase make more sense in this context. It tells you that the Heat couldn’t be in better hands.

It’s true now. It was true at 11-30.

 

From the franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat

 

Here’s an irony for you. If Miami manages to earn the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Heat fans can draw inspiration from one of the lowest moments in franchise history.

Not wanting to rub any more salt than necessary into an old wound, I won’t give you all the details. Just two words. Allan Houston.

MIAMI – New York’s Allan Houston reacts to his game-winning shot against the Heat at Miami Arena in Game 5 of the first round of NBA playoffs. PHOTO BY: RICHARD GRAULICH (Palm Beach Post)

We’re talking 1999, when the New York Knicks became the only No. 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals.

They defeated a No. 1 seed in the opening round (all right, it was Miami) and it was only a five-game series (not seven like today’s format) and it came at the end of a weird labor-lockout season (the Knicks’ regular-season record was 27-23).

Still, any way you slice it, a No. 8 seed got it going in the playoffs, which is Miami’s fondest dream now, well, after qualifying for the playoffs in the first place.

That year the Knicks beat Miami in five games, swept Atlanta in four, eliminated Indiana in six games and reached the NBA Finals against San Antonio, which did not end well but was more interesting than it should have been. The Spurs clinched the league championship in Game 5, by a score of 78-77.

Four other times a No. 8 seed has won a first-round playoff series against a No. 1.

If Miami gets in as a No. 8, that would mean knocking off the Cleveland Cavaliers, defending NBA champions. Tough sledding, but here’s how it has happened previously.

Denver beat top-seed Seattle 3-2 in 1994’s first round.

Golden State upset the No. 1 Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the opening round of the 2007 playoffs.

Memphis beat the top-seeded Spurs 4-2 in 2011.

Then, the very next year, Philadelphia knocked off the No. 1 Chicago bulls 4-2.

In every case but the 1999 Knicks, the upstart 8-seed was eliminated in the second round.

All anybody wants is a shot, however, and that’s what Miami is fighting for now.

[Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all]

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to a healthier, happier life]

[NCAA berths weren’t automatic for UM in Rick Barry’s golden era]