There is reason for celebration, as much for reflective appreciation, as the Heat launches its 34th franchise season. They walloped the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks impressively in their opener here Thursday night in the downtown bayside arena. It began with an early 19-0 run and ended 137-95, Tyler Herro leading the way with 27 points off the bench. Milwaukee of course swept Miami Heat from the playoffs last year. “Last year we felt like we got embarrassed being swept in the first round,” said Herro. “To bounce back and get revenge in a way, it feels good..” The decisive win provided the immediate joy but had competition as the cause for the feel-good.
Some of that giddy vibe might be this season opener as a touchstone and symbol of our collective return to normalcy. After two straight seasons shortened and otherwise held in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021-22 NBA season opens as the first in three years with a full 82-game schedule and full arenas in most places including Miami. Some of the happy occurred when Udonis Haslem, 41 and in his 21st Heat season, twice appeared ready to go in late in the game — the definition of either a very special occasion or a very big rout. (He didn’t end up playing, but it still gave fans a chance to cheer.) But perhaps the main reason to appreciate the Heat — that goes deeper. It is the relentless winning — more, the relentless faith this club knows the way to win. This is our best, most well-managed and expertly run professional sports franchise of any we have had. And it isn’t close. Look around. Start with the Dolphins’ glory days being almost 50 years past, and 20 years past the Fins’ real relevance in the NFL. And don’t stop there. Then arrive at the Heat, and smile. Maybe say thanks?
“We know we have a very, very competitive team and a culture players want to come to,” said club president Pat Riley. That’s Culture with a capital C in the Heat’s case, the distinction earned. Miami has made the playoffs 20 times in 26 seasons under Riley’s watch as head coach and then executive. For coach Erik Spoelstra, it is 10 playoff appearances in his 13 seasons entering this one. Not surprising that five players who’ve worn a Heat uniform were named Thursday among the NBA’s all-time 75 best players: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Allen and Gary Payton.