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]

 

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.