By: Andy Kent
History of the Miami HEAT professional basketball team.
The Miami HEAT ended the Miami Dolphins’ two-decade run as the only game in town in 1987 when the NBA named it and the Charlotte Hornets as the two newest expansion franchises set to begin play in the 1988-89 season.
Carnival Cruise Lines founder Ted Arison became the majority owner and the team played its games at the Miami Arena from November 5, 1988 to December 28, 1999, moving into the state-of-the-art AmericanAirlines Arena on January 2, 2000.
Fans were given a choice between naming the team the Miami Vice or the Miami HEAT, with the HEAT winning out in a survey, and Ron Rothstein was named the franchise’s first head coach. He coached the team for the first three seasons and was followed by Kevin Loughrey (1991-95) and Alvin Gentry for the remainder of 1995.
Center Rony Seikaly was the team’s first ever draft pick and earned league Most Improved Player honors in his second season, but Miami struggled out of the gate and didn’t put together a winning record until finishing 42-40 in 1993-94, reaching the playoffs for the second time.
Much like the arc of the Dolphins, the HEAT’s fortunes dramatically changed in 1995 when Hall-of-Famer Pat Riley was named head coach and team president after resoundingly successful tenures with the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks.
He immediately transformed the HEAT from also-rans to championship contenders with the blessing of Arison’s son, Micky, who had taken over as majority owner, and helped create an intense rivalry with the Knicks behind the play of Glenn Rice, Alonzo Mourning and later on Tim Hardaway.
Miami made the playoffs in each of Riley’s first six seasons at the helm and reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 1996-97, which also marked the first of four consecutive Atlantic Division crowns. He was named NBA Coach of the Year that season and steered the Heat to 17 playoff appearances and three championships during his first 20 seasons as the top dog, stepping aside as head coach twice– from 2003 until late in the 2004-05 season for Stan Van Gundy and after the 2008 season for Erik Spoelstra.
Miami captured its first title in 2005 behind NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade and Hall-of-Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, and then enjoyed one of the most dominant runs in NBA history from 2010-14 by reaching four consecutive NBA Finals and winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. This was known as the Big Three era, as Wade was joined by All-Stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh at the start of the 2010 season, launching the HEAT into the national spotlight throughout that entire run.
HEAT home games are considered to be the hottest ticket in town and definitely lived up to that reputation during the four-year era of the Big Three, with courtside seats routinely purchased by a who’s who list of Hollywood stars and star athletes. This trend began during Riley’s Showtime days with the Lakers in the 1980s, but luxury suites and general admission seating also have proven to be enticing.
AmericanAirlines Arena, in addition to being the site of some of the most memorable basketball games over its first two decades, also has hosted top-flight concerts from Madonna to U2 to Lady Gaga, and its location in Downtown on Biscayne Bay has only added to its iconic stature among sports and concert venues in the United States. Go to the Heat’s official team website at www.nba.com/heat for pricing and more information.
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