Heat return to FAU, and we take a look back at their inaugural game there in 1988

The Miami Heat are returning to the Florida Atlantic University gym next week for training camp, which always brings back memories of the team’s first-ever exhibition game there 29 years ago.

Until the night of Oct. 14, 1988, Miami’s NBA expansion franchise had only practiced and played intrasquad scrimmages. It was totally new and exciting when head coach Ron Rothstein actually put on a business suit and brought his guys out to play the Seattle Supersonics with Heat partner Billy Cunningham alternately looking on and signing autographs.

1988 AP file photo of Miami Heat coach Ron Rothstein shouting encouragement, or something, at his team.

Were you there? Don’t lie. The box score says only about 4,000 people were, and at that time a mere 4 percent of the Heat’s season tickets had been sold to Palm Beach County residents.

That was a long time ago, though, before the Sonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder, before all of South Florida fell in love with the Heat’s championship ways.

Fun to look back, after three NBA titles, to the franchise’s beginnings. What follows here is my column from the night of that exhibition debut, a 116-107 Seattle victory, with apologies to one original Heat player for writing that he “had all the finesse of a front-end loader.”

Here goes.

 

HEAT UNWRAP AN NBA VISION OF A TEAM DRESSED IN BASICSOct. 14, 1988By Dave George, Post Sports Columnist

   Until Friday night, until a fairly full house at Florida Atlantic
University watched a somewhat significant exhibition game against a semi-tough NBA opponent, the Miami Heat dangled somewhere between fantasy and fact.
  Like a papier-mache pinata, the concept of a major league basketball franchise in
our own backyard was beautiful but no one had taken a whack at it yet.
South Florida’s last taste of suspense this sublime was when Christo the
artist promised a masterpiece of floating fabric surrounding a handful of
islands off Biscayne Bay. Would the Heat be similarly fluffy, presented in
pleasing pastels for the discerning Floridian but lacking in substance?
    Any fear of that was ended with the first glance at Miami’s shock-troop
entry to the domain of Magic and Isiah and Kareem and Larry Friday. Maybe
storm troops would be a better word, since the NBA’s most mod squad debuted in black uniforms, insufficient to shake the veteran Seattle SuperSonics but a
fashion statement of great note.
The Heat’s new palace in downtown Miami may be pink but the players who
take the first halting steps toward tradition there won’t be. A ghastly green, perhaps, but definitely not pink.
   No squad with Pat Cummings in the paint,
moving with all the finesse of a front-end loader, could ever be so. No coach whose last official sideline bark came in the NBA Finals ever would allow it.
  “I’m sort of pleased but not satisfied,” Heat coach Ron Rothstein said
of the 116-107 loss his junior achievers suffered in their first dry run
toward the apocalyptic Nov. 5 season opener. “It’s going to be a long, drawn- out process but I hope people appreciate how hard the guys played.”
Appreciate it? These folks ate it up, howling like Lakers fans with $50
Forum seats. In truth this was only the FAU gym, a distant little dot on the
map for the fans who have invested the most in the belief that Artis Gilmore
and Art Deco both belong in Dade County.
   Heat Managing Partner Lewis Schaffel estimated Friday that only 4 percent of the team’s season tickets have been bought by Palm Beach County residents, one percentage point ahead of the number sold to New York City residents. Those 4 percent were in the gym when the game started at 7:30 but by 8:15 the faithful had arrived, filling all but the far corners of the stands.
Joining them there were Stu Inman, Miami’s director of player personnel,
and Billy Cunningham, former NBA star and one of three partners in the
franchise. They scattered themselves in the bare spots of the bleachers to
watch the game, doing everything physically possible to complete the crowd and thus present the most pleasing face possible for this first date.
They needn’t have worried. The Heat may be only tepid today but there is
steam in the furnace. Let’s get crazy here, in honor of the moment. Miami
won’t win just a dozen games in its opening season. The Heat will win 14. No, make it 15.
      Why fight the feeling when it feels so good?
The possibilities are endless. Consider for a moment that the Heat went
through the entire opening game with just two basic offensive sets, signaled
by various point guards with a shout of “fist” and “thumb up.” That leaves
four fingers completely unexplored, and that’s using just one hand.
Consider also that Rony Seikaly sat the bench for this one. Sure, every
center in the NBA won’t melt in his shadow like Dwayne Schintzius did but
they’ll have more trouble with him than Seattle’s big men did Friday with
Scott Hastings.
And chew for a moment on the fact that this fresh mixture of mice and men actually led at halftime, 55-54. The Sonics walked to the locker room in
confusion over this exhibition aberration, rationalizing to themselves, “It’s not the Heat, it’s the humidity.”
There even was a point midway through the third quarter when Miami led by 11 points, cause for celebration even in a practice game. Exuberance was in
the air, rivaling the gush of a public address announcer who earlier had
introduced Tony Karasek to the crowd as a member of the Heat.
   Karasek was cut on Wednesday.
The 21-4 run that the Sonics used to reinstate the natural order of the
universe quieted the crowd only for a moment. And it never stopped the Heat
from hustling. Chief among the survivors was rookie Kevin Edwards, who
established himself on opening night as the talent on a team that had
difficulty even getting the ball across half court against Seattle’s full-
court pressure.
Still, how could you hate them? On they went, racing up and down the court like fireflies. A flash of brilliance here, a dark spot there. Sure, it’ll take time but now that the Dolphins are playing like veterans again, there is room for a pack of rookie renegades.
This may work out after all.

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.