Whatever happens to Heat now, it can’t be worse than their opening 1996 draw against MJ’s merciless Bulls

 

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

Dennis Rodman fouls Alonzo Mourning. Photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post.

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

Post Columnist

        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.

[Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep Palm Beach County ties]

[Golden Bear’s grandson thrills Masters crowd with an ace of his own]

[Amendola is another Texas Tech tough guy, like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker]

 

There was a time, gulp, when the Miami Heat played in the Western Conference

 

Imagine if the Miami Heat were in the NBA’s rugged Western Conference, how much more difficult mounting a legitimate playoff run would be.

Wait a minute. They actually were a Western team, back in Miami’s expansion season of 1988-89, and the results were not pretty.

1988 AP file photo of Miami Heat coach Ron Rothstein shouting encouragement at his team during a game against the Denver Nuggets in Miami.

Maybe you’ve heard of the franchise’s 0-17 start that year against a sprinkling of Western and Eastern teams.

That had coach Ron Rothstein and company scrambling for the slightest taste of success, and they finally got it in mid-December with a groundbreaking 89-88 victory over the Clippers at the old Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Grant Long, Pat Cummings and Billy Thompson contributed 15 points each that night.

Along the way to 15-67 were some truly horrendous happenings and some ridiculous road trips. As a member of the NBA’s Midwest Division, Miami’s closest division rival was about 1,000 miles away in Houston.

One trip crossing from December into January included games at Seattle, Denver, Portland, Golden State, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Those stops were part of a 10-game losing streak and it wasn’t much better when the Heat were home.

Magic Johnson, James Worthy and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers scored a 47-point victory at Miami Arena that season, for instance. That was nice for Pat Riley, who was their coach at the time, but it should be pointed out that the West wasn’t even the toughest conference back then.

The Lakers were swept by Detroit in the 1989 NBA Finals and that set off a five-year championship run by the Pistons and the Chicago Bulls of the Eastern Conference.

What was Miami doing out west in the first place? It was all part of the NBA’s effort to work in some expansion teams and make all the numbers work in the process. Miami and Charlotte came in first, followed by Minnesota and Orlando the following season.

The Heat spent just that one season in the Western Conference, finishing 36 games back of Utah in the Midwest and 42 games behind the top-seeded Lakers.

It took a while, but Miami eventually won three NBA titles. Keep that in mind when today’s Heat team lays an egg like that loathsome 111-109 home loss to Orlando on Monday night.

Remember, too, that just about most every NBA team looks fairly hopeless from time to time.

In 2000 and 2001, Riley failed even to get Miami to 60 points in a couple of bad losses, and those were 50-win Heat teams featuring Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

[Please, NFL, take us back to the days when a catch was simply a catch]

[Eagles went from losers to champions in one year, but what about Miami?]

[Dan Mullen predicts a national title for Gators but doesn’t say when]

 

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]

 

Monday was sensational, but there’s an even crazier upset in Heat franchise history

Monday’s 105-102 upset of the Golden State Warriors was one of the most shocking victories in Miami Heat history and it provides the blueprint for Erik Spoelstra for defeating the league’s best as the season continues.

First, forget about getting Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson back in the lineup. Obviously, the Heat don’t need them.

Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat poses for photo media during Heat Media Day at American Airlines Arena, September 26, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post
Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat poses during Heat Media Day at American Airlines Arena, September 26, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

Second, get a subpar performance from Hassan Whiteside. His meager 10 points in 35-plus minutes on Monday were well below average but clearly vital in distracting the Warriors from their pregame keys.

Third, tell Goran Dragic to dial it down a bit, too. He made just 5-of-14 Monday from the field and was pretty lousy from the foul line, too, missing 5-of-13. Again, brilliant subterfuge.

Fourth, take a kid who has barely played in the NBA and give him significant minutes. Okaro White, who prior to Monday was 0-for-3 in a grand total of two career games, contributed five very necessary points to the win over the Warriors.

Fifth, get Dion Waiters and Luke Babbitt to combine for 9-for-12 from three-point range. Now there’s a game plan that should be easily repeatable, right?

All kidding aside, there’s only been one Heat game more ridiculous than this one was in terms of overperforming. That was Miami’s easy 113-104 win over Michael Jordan’s invincible Chicago Bulls on Feb. 23, 1996.

Chicago was on its way to a 72-10 regular season, a record that stood until Golden State went 73-9 last year. We’re talking about MJ, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and the boys, plus Steve Kerr, the current Warriors coach, off the bench.

Defeating them that night was a Miami team coached by Pat Riley but stuck in a disastrous roster limbo. The 24-29 Heat had just made a trade for Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatlin and two other players but those fresh troops had not yet arrived. Consequently, there were only eight Miami players dressed and ready to play against the Bulls but it hardly mattered.

Rex Chapman, who averaged 14 points per game that year, went off for a season-high 39 against the Bulls, hitting 9-of-10 from three-point range in the process.

“He reminded me of Jerry West,” Riley said of Chapman.

Don’t know about that, but Rex did outscored Jordan that night by eight points.

Here’s an excerpt from the Palm Beach Post’s deadline story on the upset, written by Tom D’Angelo. Of course, Tom was there. He’s everywhere.

“Some nights are hard to explain. Friday was one of them.

Playing with eight players and against the team some are touting as the best of all time, the Miami Heat submitted their most impressive performance of the season.

The Heat – relying heavily on three-point shooting – shocked the Chicago Bulls 113-104 at Miami Arena. Miami showed emotion (and outside shooting) rarely seen this season less than 24 hours after the team was gutted by three trades involving 10 players.

“You see it all the time in sports,” said Heat guard Rex Chapman, who equaled his career high with 39 points. “A team that’s undermanned on paper, and has no chance at all…Nobody is more surprised than we are, I’ll admit that. But if we had come out and laid down, we could have been beaten by 100.”

That’s just a flavor from D’Angelo’s complete story, and here are a few last notes I’ll throw in, too.

In the two games prior to that monumental upset, Miami scored 70 points in a loss to Cleveland and 66 in a win over Philadelphia.

What’s more, they didn’t get a monster game from Alonzo Mourning in beating the Bulls. Zo turned in his usual strongman numbers of 19 points and 12 rebounds but made just 8-of-22 shots.

The funniest part to me, looking back, is how angry Zo was after the game. He couldn’t believe how many in the sellout crowd were cheering loudly for the visiting superstars from Chicago and actually looked forward to going on a road trip in a couple of days.

“I’m kind of happy we’re getting out of this city and away from these fans,” Zo said. “The fans here are so hypocritical, it’s ridiculous. It makes me sick.”

[Gators are a touchdown shy of college football’s per-game scoring average]

[Wondering if Dolphins’ No. 22 draft position is haunted]

[Steve Shepherd and ‘Dangerous Dave’ Lewter join Florida Boxing Hall of Fame]

For the record, the Bulls got their revenge, dismissing Miami 3-0 in the opening playoff round that year and going on to start a new string of three consecutive NBA championships.

Better remember these amazing nights when they come along, however. It’s why any game ticket could wind up being the one you keep forever.

 

Ten years after 1st Heat title team, Wade and Haslem deserve their own nickname

 

The Big Three, a championship concept, came and went in Miami.

The Trusted Two, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, remain.

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) drives past Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris (13) with the help of teammate Udonis Haslem, left, in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
MIAMI – Dwyane Wade drives past Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris with the help of Heat teammate Udonis Haslem on April 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

This is the 10th anniversary season of the Heat’s original NBA title team. Dwyane and Udonis were there.

Young and tough and fearless, they helped to lift the franchise to the top of the league, the place where Pat Riley had been trying to get the Heat throughout a decade of wheeling and dealing and coaching and cajoling.

Old and tough and fearless, Dwyane and Udonis are back at it again, working to remind a fresh set of teammates what it will take to get past Charlotte in the first round, and trying to remind them that every night won’t be as easy as that Game 1 blowout on Sunday.

It would pay to listen to anything these guys have to say, and to mimic any kind of postseason mood they present. You can be certain that coach Erik Spoelstra does.

In 2006, Spo was 35, an assistant, a rapid climber in hopes of running his own team one day. He couldn’t have known that Riley soon would step away from coaching, or that LeBron James would be coming his way, or that 10 years could whistle past as quickly as these have.

Looking back, however, at that original Heat championship roster, the signs are all there, and they are fading fast.

Other than Wade and Haslem, the 2006 Heat player who stayed the longest in the league was Jason Kapono. He logged all of two minutes across that entire postseason and played his last NBA season in 2012 with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Shaquille O’Neal, a new Hall of Famer, made it to 2011 and played with three teams after Miami.

Alonzo Mourning and Antoine Walker finished up in 2008, which was one season longer than Gary Payton.

[NFL draft is rarely enough to instantly transform a team like Miami]

[Most Heat teams with fewer than 50 wins have dead-ended in first round]

[Dolphins got A.J. Duhe with 13th pick and are feeling lucky again]

To many Heat fans in their 20’s, kids who grew up on the Big Three era, it might not be easy to remember that breakthrough 2006 Miami team at all. Why, even Justise Winslow, the 20-year-old rookie who played 27 minutes in his first NBA playoff game Sunday night, is probably pretty fuzzy on the details.

It happened, though, and it’s still happening for The Trusted Two, Wade as a starter and Haslem as a whatever-you-need-whenever-you-need-it.

Consequently, I’ll always appreciate their contributions just a little bit more, and the same goes for Stan Van Gundy, who started out coaching that 2006 Miami team before Riley stepped in and took over.

Stan is still grinding away in the NBA playoffs as coach of the Detroit Pistons. He’ll make LeBron and the Cavs work and in their opening-round series and it figures he’ll still be coaching for somebody somewhere another 10 years from now.

One last thought for the Heat marketing department. With all those White Hot 2016 playoff banners and T-shirts, might it be possible to slip in a few 10th-anniversary Heat championship references? Those guys were the first, and no major achievement ever means more than the first.

Most Heat teams with fewer than 50 wins have dead-ended in first round

Anything could happen with the Miami Heat in the playoffs. Franchise history suggests, however, that not much will.

I know, I know, you don’t want to hear this right now, not with the Southeast Division championship banner soon to be hung from the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena, and not with home-court advantage against Charlotte in the opening round.

A 48-34 record is pretty great, right, considering the Heat did it without Chris Bosh for a huge chunk of the regular season? That’s an 11-game improvement over last year.  Dwyane Wade got through it, too, without missing many games which means he won’t be limping into the playoffs this time.

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade (3) gets blocked by Orlando Magic's Elfrid Payton (4) during the first quarter on Sunday, April 10, 2016, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)
Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade met in lane by Orlando Magic’s Elfrid Payton on April 10, 2016, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)

The problem is, Miami teams with 50 or fewer wins haven’t previously shown themselves as strong enough to make any real noise in the postseason. One series victory and seven first-round losses, that’s the hard truth of it for Heat playoff teams in that category.

In other words, that showdown with LeBron and the Cavs that everybody wants is far from guaranteed.

Every season is different, of course. Every annual lineup of Eastern playoff teams is different based on their relative strengths and the overall depth of the conference.

There are no super teams in the East this time around, though, and that includes the Cavs. The No. 8 seed, Detroit, finished six games above .500. It’s a tight pack overall, which suggests a tough slog for the Heat or any of their rivals, from the opening series on.

Look at the meat of the order, the No. 3 through No. 6 seeds in the East. All four teams finished with the same 48-34 record. As for Miami’s opening assignment, the Heat the the Hornets split four games during the regular season. If there’s an edge here, it’s tiebreaker-thin.

Putting a more positive spin on the thing, nobody’s going to care about regular-season records once the playoffs begin. It will be a matter of which teams get hot at the right time, and which stars come up with big buckets or big stops in the closing seconds of numerous tight games.

Open the net a bit wider and there’s a 52-30 Heat team, roughly as successful as this one in the regular season, that went on to the NBA title. That was 10 years ago, with Wade and Shaquille O’Neal and with mighty Alonzo Mourning coming off the bench, and it changed the way the world looked at this franchise forever.

That group was locked up 2-2 with Chicago in the opening round and in danger of flaming out like so many others. It’s a fine line, all right, when all the lousy teams have already been eliminated and all the easy wins removed from the schedule.

[Dolphins got A.J. Duhe with 13th overall pick and they’re feeling lucky again]

[Simplest early measure to tell if Dolphins hired the right coach]

[Mario Williams is still better than Olivier Vernon at any price]

So take this for what it’s worth. Miami is due for a scrap in the opening round. Appreciate the opportunity. Try not to look ahead. Even if this goes well and the Heat earn a later meeting with LeBron, there’s a long and potentially frustrating fight between here and there.

Nobody wants to say that out loud, but you can beat that Wade and Udonis Haslem will begin to shout it in the locker room now that the long hard push for home-court advantage in the first round is completed.

 

Results of Miami playoff teams with 50 or fewer regular-season wins

Yr         Record     Coach           Result

2010     47-35       Spoelstra       Lost 1st rd (Boston in 5)

2009     43-39       Spoelstra       Lost 1st rd (Atlanta in 7)

2007     44-38       Riley               Lost 1st rd (Swept by Chicago)

2004     42-20       Van Gundy   Lost 2nd rd (Pacers in 6)

2001     50-32       Riley               Lost 1st rd (Swept by Charlotte)

1996     42-40       Riley               Lost 1st rd (Swept by Chicago)

1994     42-40       Loughery       Lost 1st rd (Atlanta in 5)

1992     38-44       Loughery       Lost 1st rd (Swept by Chicago)

(Note – The NBA champion Miami team of 2011-12 Heat won 46 regular-season games in a scheduled shortened by a lockout)

Zo’s story taught Pat Riley all he needs to know about waiting on answers with Chris Bosh

 

The news on Chris Bosh’s recurrence of blood clots is shocking. He needs to wrestle with life issues first and everything else, including basketball, somewhere down the line.

The Miami Heat, of course, are a basketball team, so that establishes their priority of going on, playing games, building long-term personnel and payroll strategies, with the assumption that Bosh won’t be a significant part of it anymore.

Miami Heat vice president, player programs Alonzo Mourning, center, presents guard Dwyane Wade, left, and forward Chris Bosh right, jerseys for the NBA All-Star Game, before the start of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Miami Heat vice president, player programs Alonzo Mourning, center, presents guard Dwyane Wade, left, and forward Chris Bosh right, jerseys for the NBA All-Star Game, before the start of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

This all falls at the trade deadline, which winds the clock even faster. This team wasn’t going to win an NBA championship this season, however, even if Bosh played every game at a career-best level. It’s a stretch to think that any new, reshuffled lineup would get very far in the playoffs with or without Bosh returning at less than his polished best.

Better just to play out the season for whatever it is worth rather than dangling Justise Winslow or Goran Dragic or even Hassan Whiteside as trade bait for a half-season of veteran help.

Give Pat Riley time to sweep away all the broken pieces of his offseason free-agency plan. Give him the chance to come up with another plan for another year or two in the future, plus the chance to decide if he even wants to try again.

Riley’s got experience, after all, in dealing with an unpredictable health threat striking a cornerstone Heat player. It happened to Alonzo Mourning in 2000, when he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease.

[Dolphins thought they had their very own Von Miller when they drafted Dion Jordan]

[Honda Classic gets Fowler and Matsuyama fresh off emotional playoff duel]

[If Shaq gets his Heat jersey retired, why not cornerstones like Rice and Seikaly?]

In August of that year Riley made some big changes, collecting Eddie Jones, Anthony Mason and Brian Grant for what he hoped would be a run at the Heat’s first Eastern Conference title. Then a couple of weeks before the season opener Zo made his announcement. Everyone rallied around the great star, hoping Zo would get help on his mysterious health issues and return.

Well, he did, in late March, starting three games and playing in 13 for a 50-win Miami team that climbed all the way to No. 3 in the East’s playoff seedings. Then came a first-round playoff loss to the Charlotte Hornets, and a three-game sweep, no less.

The next season was much better for Zo, almost making you think that he had willed his body back into line. In 74 starts he averaged 15.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, earning one last trip to the All-Star Game. The team, unfortunately, was starting to fall apart. Riley traded away Tim Hardaway, whose skills were diminishing at 34, before the season even began. By the spring everything had become drudgery, with Riley missing the playoffs for the first time in his career.

Of course, you know how well the story ended for Zo, with his glorious return to the Heat following a kidney transplant and with the NBA championship ring he won as Shaquille O’Neal’s backup in 2006. What can’t be forgotten now, though, and what won’t be forgotten by Riley in dealing with Bosh’s situation, is the way the whole franchise waited on him and hoped for a miracle when the kidney issue first arose.

Mourning missed the entire 2002-03 season, left the team when his contract was not renewed and went through a fruitless experiment with the New Jersey Nets before his body finally demanded a reboot with the transplant.

Zo is as tough physically and as stubborn mentally as any athlete who ever has played a professional sport. The Heat believed in him so much that they banked on his recovery longer than logic and medical science suggested was realistic. Zo couldn’t be counted upon any more, no matter how much he and the team wanted it to be otherwise.

Bosh can’t change his stars either. He will be paid, and paid well, by a franchise that doesn’t want to see him go but must accept that he also can’t be counted upon any more for any appreciable length of time.

Shocking to say, sad to think, but there it is. Best wishes now to Bosh, a big man in every way and enough of a believer in Riley that he re-signed with the Heat after LeBron James bolted.

If it turns out he comes back to the team later this season or beyond, I say hallelujah to that, but it won’t ever be the same. It can’t be.

Like Zo was at the time of his mysterious ailment, Bosh has no more real say in delivering on his promises.

 

If a short-timer like Shaq gets his Heat jersey retired, why not cornerstones like Rice and Seikaly?

 

 

If the Miami Heat are retiring Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey, as announced on Tuesday, you know what that means.

One day they’ll be raising LeBron James’ No. 6 to the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena, too. Whether that becomes a warm and fuzzy moment for anybody really doesn’t matter. It has to happen, because Pat Riley is determined to give all-time credit to Miami’s all-time talents. It is a strength of his that puts the game above the gossip.

CHICAGO - MAY 4: Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Miami Heat shoots against the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2006 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 4, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2006 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHICAGO – Shaquille O’Neal of the Miami Heat shoots against the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2006 NBA Playoffs at Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Now I’m not convinced that Shaq deserves so warm a hug from a franchise that he slimed pretty liberally on his way out the door in 2008.

He only spent 3 ½ seasons in Miami and played for three more teams after that while skidding to the end of his career. Commitment to the Heat’s brand of basketball was never the commitment for Shaq that it was for, say, Alonzo Mourning. Shaq’s commitment has always been to Shaq, the supersized persona, the great entertainer, the brilliant manager of so many marketable assets.

It all starts, however, with Shaq’s transformative impact on the game. He was a load physically and a bull mentally, commanding as much respect in the lane as anyone since Wilt Chamberlain has. In 2006, at the age of 33, Shaq still had enough to average 18.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the long playoff run that earned Miami its first NBA title. Dwyane Wade was the reason the Heat finished the job but they wouldn’t have gotten within realistic range of a championship without Shaq.

Wade’s jersey will eventually be retired, though they really ought to hang about three of his up there, one in white, another in red and another in black. That would reflect his multiplied importance to this organization, and the three NBA titles he has won with the Heat.

Chris Bosh will be honored somewhere down the road, too, just like Zo and Tim Hardaway before him.

Is Shaq still really a part of that royal family? Doesn’t seem to matter to Heat ownership. Michael Jordan’s number is retired at AmericanAirlines and he’s related to this franchise by NBA bloodlines alone.

More than worrying about Shaq, though, it would be nice to pay more attention to Glen Rice and Rony Seikaly, two Heat greats who might be getting higher priorities if they had played for Riley.

Rice averaged 19.3 points per game during his six Miami seasons. That’s No. 4 in franchise history, right behind LeBron, Dwyane and Shaq. What’s more, Rice drove the Heat into the playoffs for the first time, back when he carried a far greater load than any of the Big Three did individually during Miami’s later championship run.

Seikaly, meanwhile, holds a special place in franchise history because he was there from the start. Miami took the Syracuse center in the first round of the Heat’s inaugural draft in 1988 and received in return six seasons of overachievement.

Seikaly averaged a double-double during his time in Miami – 15.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. Nobody, not even Shaq, averaged as many rebounds in a Heat uniform. Seikaly blocked a ton of shots, too, coming in third in franchise history behind Zo and Shaq at 1.4 per game.

Now maybe I’m too liberal with my view of which numbers should be retired, but no more so than Riley is in honoring Shaq.

Maybe we’ll be in agreement one day in retiring Udonis Haslem’s number. It’s not always about stats when it comes to identifying a franchise’s most valued members. Udonis is the soul of the Heat, a gritty force from Miami, of Miami and for Miami.

Shaq, he was just a traveling star, and LeBron a manipulator of rosters and of minds. Both came to Miami to get what they wanted, championship rings, and both left when it was convenient to them.

The comeback of Chris Bosh is as much mental as physical

Chris Bosh doesn’t have to play basketball anymore.

The man’s got money. They don’t call those deals “max contracts” for nothing.

Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) poses for a photo on media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 26, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) poses for a photo on media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 26, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Bosh has got a beautiful family, too, and intelligence and creativity to spare. This is a guy you could see charming a television audience as an analyst, or a halftime studio panelist, or a talk-show host, and never even breaking a sweat in the process.

Still, he’s getting ready to return to training camp this weekend with the Miami Heat, more excited than ever about what the game means to him and what he means to his team. If the pulmonary embolism that could have killed him last year ever comes up in conversation, it’s because some interviewer asks a question about it.

How do you forget severe pain coursing throughout the left side of your body, prompting an extended stay in the hospital and the scare of a lifetime for everyone close to you? You don’t, and Bosh won’t, but he isn’t thinking about a chance of careers at 31, either.

“It’s given me a different attitude about life and about basketball,” Bosh said in a recent ESPN radio interview.

Is it possible to separate one without the other? There is no certain answer to that one, at least not for those of us who can change the channel on games that aren’t working out, those of us who never have and never will push ourselves as far as these guys do physically and mentally and voluntarily.

[Heightened anxiety just part of the package with Ndamukong Suh]

[I’ll say the Hurricanes finally win the ACC Coastal, but then I’m an idiot]

[Jack’s majors record may not be the only one that Tiger can’t quite reach]

Elite athletes in any sport are born to compete. The worst thing they can imagine is being denied that. Without that drive, they wouldn’t be who they are, climbing higher than all the rest. Without it, they wouldn’t be willing to accept a list of occupational risks that the average person doesn’t find reasonable, from football concussions to NASCAR crashes.

Think of Heat legend Alonzo Mourning returning to play in the NBA after a kidney transplant. That’s incredible, but it’s rarely the first thing that comes up when discussing his Hall of Fame career.

One day Bosh will reach the end of his career, too, about a million sprints up and down the court from now, and we will count his championships rings and add up his statistics and thank him for playing.

This comeback from blood clots in his left lung in 2014? It will be forgotten by most fans just as soon as Bosh gets back to averaging 21 points and seven rebounds, which he where he was last year when a medical emergency interrupted.

These guys never cease to amaze me, not only for the way they play, but for the way they play on, as if there really isn’t a choice.

Miami Heat training camp only a month away and it sure doesn’t feel like 37-45 anymore

The Miami Heat are coming off a 37-45 season and it feels pretty darn good.

That’s not the sort of sentiment normally tied to a record like that, but training camp is just a month away (Sept. 26) and it’s time to start ramping up the expectations for the vision of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside finally all running the court at once, plus A’mare Stoudemire and top draft pick Justise Winslow ready to come rumbling in off the bench.

That doesn’t sound or feel like a 37-45 team. That feels like the playoffs.

Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) poses for a photo on media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 26, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Heat center Chris Bosh on 2014 media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Just to show the difference, psychologically and emotionally, think back to the last Heat team with a similar record.

Miami went 36-46 in the 2001-02 season. Eddie Jones led the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game but he was 30 and looking back on his former all-star years. Alonzo Mourning, one of the toughest players in Heat history, was still a top-five shotblocker and averaging 15.7 points per game but Zo’s days as a Heat regular were coming to a close. He missed the following season because of kidney disease so urgent that it necessitated a transplant.

Pat Riley was coaching the team at the time and depending on veterans like Brian Grant, Rod Strickland and Kendall Gill to play great defense collectively. They did that, but Miami couldn’t find any offensive flow, finishing last in the NBA at 87.2 points per game.

There was little reason to be excited about the following season. Even with promising draft pick Caron Butler joining the team, the Heat bottomed out at 25-57 in 2002-03 and Riley soon stepped aside as coach to start building for a championship run from the front office. Couldn’t see Wade coming in the draft just yet. Couldn’t see much of anything.

[The wide, wide world of football is headed toward 400-pound players]

[Jim McElwain really rolled the dice by not signing at quarterback at UF]

[With Pat Riley, the Heat are never far from raising a banner]

The franchise’s current situation has nothing in common with that dismal outlook. Even though Miami missed the playoffs last year, breaking a six-season string that included two NBA titles, there’s no reason to expect it will happen again.

LeBron James and the Cavaliers are better than Miami. The Chicago Bulls might be. That’s about it in the Eastern Conference.

If something is still needed to whet your appetite, the Heat’s opening preseason game is Oct. 4 vs. Charlotte at AmericanAirlines Arena. Sure, that’s a Sunday, but the Dolphins are playing the Jets in London at 9:30 that morning so there’s no conflict with the 6 p.m. basketball start.

At times like this, it seems South Florida sports fans really can have it all.