It’s Friday night and I’m sitting at my laptop with headphones on watching the Miami Heat battle the New York Knicks. My daughter and wife have commandeered the TV to watch some preteen soap opera, so I’m in my own world. They look at me as I go from cursing under my breath to pumping my fist depending on what just happened. “Are you OK?” they ask.
“These refs are trying to steal the game,” I tell them.
“Don’t have a heart attack,” they warn me.
I’m almost 45. Old enough that heart attacks are a real possibility. And too old to care this much about a sports team I’m not betting any money on. But man this Miami Heat basketball team has captured my attention and imagination.
The Heat franchise came into fruition when I was ten years old. Their first few years they were godawful, but I was just happy my city had a team. Then they went from 1992-1996 to competing to getting into the playoffs. From 1997-2000 they went to being a championship contender. In 2006 they actually won a championship. That would seem to be the high point of my sports fandom.
But in 2010 the Heat recruited LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade and had the opportunity to be one of the greatest basketball teams to ever play. I watched just about every game of that Big Three era and was rewarded with two championships and four Finals appearances. But then in 2014 LeBron took his ball and went home abandoning the Heat.
That would seem a logical endpoint to my obsessive Miami Heat fandom.
I was now older than all the players (even the ancient Udonis Haslem). And things obviously couldn’t get better than back to back championships.
The next few years I didn’t watch that many games. Life I guess was keeping me too busy. But then in 2020 with COVID, life as we knew it basically stopped. There was nothing to do and nowhere to go and then the NBA randomly said we’re going to play the playoffs in a hermetically sealed bubble in Orlando for your viewing pleasure.
And the Miami Heat kicked ass. They shot and made threes without care. They played tenacious defense and dove for every rebound and loose ball as though the fate of civilization depended on it.
The Heat gave me an excuse to dip my toe into socializing with others after months of being trapped in my own hermetically sealed bubble. I watched a couple games at a friend’s house, others with my Dad, and even stepped into my first bar (however foolish that might have been) to see Bam Adebayo save a game with an amazing block.
The Heat upset the heavily favored Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics and got all the way to the Finals against the LA Lakers where they had the chance to show LeBron James he made a big mistake abandoning the Heat and their fans. They didn’t. The Lakers won. But not because of the Heat’s lack of trying. Jimmy Butler outplayed LeBron to the point of exhaustion. Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo tried to play through injuries. It wasn’t enough, but it was more than enough. I vowed to never speak a critical word against these warriors who played so hard for my entertainment.
This past regular season it was hard to keep that promise.
I didn’t watch many games this regular season, but when I did watch the Heat play it took every ounce of self-control not to call them out as overpaid, out of shape bums. A friend invited me to attend one game and I kept my eye on new recruit Kevin Love. He barely moved. He half-jogged across the court and didn’t seem to have the flexibility to bend over to pick the ball up from the floor.
So I wasn’t too excited to watch the playoffs. The Heat were the eighth seed up against the team with the best record in the league, the Milwaukee Bucks. But a strange thing happened. All of a sudden Kevin Love was running.
The Heat won game 1. They lost game 2, but came back to slaughter the Bucks in game 3. And then game 4 was one for the ages. Jimmy Butler had 56 points leading the Heat from 14 points down in the fourth quarter in a spectacular five point victory.
And then game 5 was even better. This time the Bucks were up by 16 in the fourth quarter and still the Heat came back to win. Jimmy Butler had 42 points including a remarkable last second collapsing shot to take the game to overtime. The Thursday night game ended after midnight and it took me hours to come down from that high before I could fall asleep.
The Heat went on to beat the Knicks who tormented us when I was much younger to the point I thought no team I ever rooted for could ever win. Tomorrow they play the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Perhaps the Heat will finally come back to Earth and lose to the heavily favored Celtics, but I wouldn’t count on it. This Heat team has too much heart and look like they have too much fun.
Their intensity is infectious and inspiring. I thought it was great to be a fan of the Heat team a decade ago with LeBron, but that juggernaut had such heavy expectations. When you have the most talent, every loss felt like a catastrophe, like a wasted opportunity.
This team is filled with overachievers, where every victory is a pleasant surprise, an excuse for a party. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give this Heat team is that after watching them defeat the Knicks (and the referees who were conspiring against Miami) Friday night, the first thing I did Saturday morning was lace up my shoes, get my half flat basketball out of the closet and walk over the park to shoot some hoops and emulate maybe not the best, but definitely the greatest Miami Heat team to ever take the court.