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Tuesday, June 07, 2005


It's not just the Knicks anymore

Are the Miami Heat the latest pro sports franchise to face a daunting curse? Before you laugh off the suggestion as an exceptional case of sour grapes, let's review some recent history of a franchise that has had as much star power as any other in the NBA, and more regular season success over the past ten seasons than anybody except for the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs, both of whom have won multiple championships in recent years.

The Miami Heat however, have yet to reach the NBA Finals as a franchise. Monday Night's setback at home was the latest in a long list of failures this team has experienced in critical games. South Florida and Heat fans across the country have fallen into a mode of frustration and depression since last night's blown lead and abrupt season ending loss.

When Pat Riley, winner of five NBA titles with the LA Lakers was named Heat coach, President and General Manager in 1995, it seemed the franchise was about to the next great NBA dynasty. Sports Illustrated ran a cover story contrasting Pat Riley's initial success with the Heat to Don Shula's failures with the Dolphins. (A cover story Riley angrily denounced, claiming he was a Dolphins fan and an even bigger Shula fan, and that he did not realize the nature of the story when he agreed to it.) In Riley's first Heat season, the team traded for Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway and made the playoffs despite a roster that was constantly in flux all season long. The only player Riley seemed to like that he had inherited from the past regime was tough man Keith Askins who is today still a Riley favorite and member of the organization's staff. In Riley's second season the Heat had the NBA's second best record at 61-21. The Heat reached the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Despite the loss, the Heat played well, holding the Jordan led Bulls to an average of only 84 points for the series, which was unheard of in the NBA at the time.

The next season began the long frustrating road which culminated last night for the franchise. The Heat had the league's third best record (again behind Chicago and also behind Utah) and hosted the rival New York Knicks who had barely made the playoffs in the first round. (The Heat-Knicks rivalry was ranked the top Pro Sports rivalry by Sports Illustrated for the 1990s) The Heat played poorly, and in the waning seconds of Game 4, with the game all but over Alonzo Mourning took a swipe at his old nemesis Larry Johnson. Johnson and Mourning had played together in Charlotte and had a troubled relationship. Mourning was suspended for the deciding Game 5, which lead to a Knicks rout in the Miami Arena. The next season, with Michael Jordan retired, the Heat had tied for the best regular season record in the NBA. The Knicks had the worst record of any team that qualified for the Playoffs, and thus the two teams met in the first round again. In the deciding game, the Knicks got an off balance long range shot from Alan Houston to advance, yet again in front of Miami's home crowd. The next season the Heat won its fourth straight Atlantic Division title, swept Detroit in the first round and again faced the Knicks in a decisive Game 7 at home. Tim Hardaway's three point basket gave the Heat the lead inside of two minutes to go, but the Heat wouldn't score again and when Clarence Weatherspoon's jumper clanked with 6 seconds to go, the Heat had again been beaten by New York.

One underlying tension point always prevalent in South Florida is the number of New Yorkers in South Florida who show nothing but contempt for the teams we locals love so dearly. We hear about the Jets, the Knicks, the Yankees and the Mets almost as much as we hear about the Dolphins, Heat and Marlins. Losses to the Knicks and Jets were especially hard for South Floridians as the rivarly was super intense and half the locals seemed to be pulling for the Knicks, as well as every time the Dolphins would play an inferior Jets team it seems going back to the 1970s, they lose. Heat fan frustration reached the boiling point the following season when Jimmy Buffett was tossed from the Arena by refs for complaining about the Knicks getting every call in a critical late season matchup. Spike Lee always did the same in New York, why did he never get tossed from a game on National TV? Conspiracy minded people like myself were beginning to wonder, why is it that the Heat never get the calls and the league is quick to fine Pat Riley or eject Jimmy Buffett without inflicting any similar punishment on the New Yorkers? Could it be because it serves NBC and TNT well that New York every series goes to the limit and New York keeps winning? As controversial as he is, South Floridians like myself never got the satisfaction of getting even with the New York first crowd until one night in October 2003 when Jeffery Loria had a smug look on his face at Yankee Stadium following Josh Beckett's masterpiece Game 6- a look that said "gotcha!" The Marlins had defeated the evil empire, and were World Champs.

The Heat overhauled the roster coming into the 2000-2001 season making a blockbuster deal to bring local star Eddie Jones who grew up in Pompano Beach back home to South Florida. The Heat who has long been community minded in its outlook (unlike the Miami Dolphins; Pat Riley has been known to watch Miami Hurricanes game in the locker room cheering on the Canes, and been interested in creating a hometown feel by bringing as many local stars to the Heat as possible) had the missing piece or so it seemed. But when Alonzo Mourning was diagnosed with a Kidney ailment and had to quit playing and Jones didn't live up to his billing, Riley was accused of bad management and of being too much of a homer. The Heat did win 50 games that season but bowed out of the playoffs quickly, being swept by the lower seeded Charlotte Hornets who featured three former Heat players in its starting lineup.

Fast forward to Summer 2004. The Heat, coming off a strong playoff run the previous season acquires the most dominant big man in the recent history of the game. At the same time a supporting cast that cut its teeth the previous year with a successful season was in place for a title run. The Heat easily secured the best record in the Conference and home court advantage. After sweeping the first two playoffs series, the Heat faced defending champion Detroit. By this time, the entire Heat lineup was hobbled, and when Dwayne Wade went down in Game 5, the reaction from many of us, was "here we go again." What other team in recent memory has had to hold its entire starting five out of practice the day before a deciding championship game?

I'm not sure what to call this curse, but after Monday night, I am convinced it exists.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a typical whiny South Floridian. I'm glad you guys lost. All the hype and hubub about South Beach and the jet set lifestyle in Miami makes us North Floridians want to cut you off from the rest of the state and live like normal americans do, unlike the Miami scene.

Anonymous said...

Do you always have to pick on New Yorkers? I guess you are bitter about the Jets dominance over the Dolphins and the Knicks domination of the Heat.

Also the evil empire crack is un becoming. The Marlins are a joke franchise who got lucky that year. If the two teams played ten time, the Yanks would win 8 times.

Anonymous said...

You South Floridian whiners should suck it up! Go Detriot! In just a couple short weeks the Pistons will win their second straight championship only to have the beautiful and culturally diverse city burned to the ground. Try to live in MI. Just think, while GM is firing 25,000 workers in the Detriot area and the mayor is cutting the city fire departmnet by 25% to save cost, we will burn. Miami still has Shaq and J-Lo and South Beach.

jk said...

I was in Boca for last night's game at the Ale House. Perhaps it was because the Heat has played the Knicks in the past and the Marlins played the Cubs and Yankees in 2003, both teams with large fan bases down here, but this was the most into a team I can remember South Florida being. About 300 people jammed into the Boca Ale House and it was like being at the game. Let's go Heat was chanted evbery time we had the ball, and defense every time Detroit had the ball. When we lost the place was in stomed silence, and some people were actually crying. Truthfully it was never like this before, even when the Marlins were in the World Series. Maybe it's because South Florida has taken to Shaq, or perhaps it just the community coming together for a change. I'm still sick about the loss. This one will take a while to get over.

Anonymous said...

Is this a comparison of the lowly Heat to an organization like the Cubs that has been truly cursed. The Cubs are a tradition rich team whereas the Heat are just another NBA team that has wasted space in the league now for so long.

Gregg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gregg said...

When we got Shaq last summer, I think most people's expectations were to get to the Eastern Conf. Finals against Indiana or Detroit. I felt at the time we did not have the supporting cast necessary this season to make it to the finals. But given another year of Wade maturing and a few key free agents signings we could compete for the Championship in 2006.

Well, yes I am very disappointed after last night's game. But it takes every great team and player to go through an off-season of what if's to make them better and hungrier.

Just ask Jordan, how many times did he lose to Detroit?

Shaq got swept by Houston. He left for the Lakers and he didn't win his first year out there.

Ask Bird the same thing. The list goes on and on.

So as in typical Miami Dolphin talk, "Wait till next year"

Luis in Weston said...

The Davie Ale House was rocking as well. We've been down this road so many times with both the Heat and the Dolphins its hard to remember what winning is actually like anymore.

Jackson said...

Shaq is human.We all learned that the other night.

Anonymous said...

You fools can eat crow. South Florida is pathetic. How many of you were interested in the Heat before they got Shaq????? I personally am a loyal Atlanta Hawks fan, as bad as they are, they have always been our team for those few of us interested in Basketball in this part of the state.

Anonymous said...

Well Shaq Daddy didn't deliver did he, Miami? In two to three years you guys are going to wish you had Odom and Butler back and had never made the lousy trade with the Lakers. Honestly, with Wade emerging as the star that he is, the Heat could have eventually been a championship team if they had left last year's team intact. I don't mind since I'm a Magic fan, but you guys blew it. The young core of the Heat last season was the envy of many around the league- that's why the Lakers made the deal. C'mon, through the years how many bad trades have the Lakers really made? Not many- they have a top rate front office which is usually on the money in these sorts of things. I bet this one will pan out for LA and flop for Miami real soon. Do you really trade two explosive 23 year olds for a 33 year old injury prone player? NEVER!

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I am the host of the Major League Soccer Talk and EPL Talk Podcasts and am frequent guest on other (world) football shows. I am also the publisher of various other websites including this one. I work in public/government relations in addition to my soccer work and have a keen interest in history, politics, aviation, travel,and the world around us.