The Miami Heat blueprint rooted in work and defense and Culture with a capital C -- the blueprint that keeps reinventing itself and keeps succeeding -- looks and feels very different this time.
The first championship run introduced itself with larger-than-life bombast. An 18-wheeler emblazoned DIESEL POWER delivered Shaquille O’Neal to a gathering of thousands of swooning fans outside the downtown arena, news helicopters hovering overhead. Shaq would join forces with a young player we had only just begun to love. His name was Dwyane Wade.
Miami celebrated its first NBA championship two summers later.
The Heat’s second championship run introduced itself as a national spectacle that dwarfed Shaq’s arrival. The big man was gone, but D-Wade was now in his full powers, and he would be joined by LeBron James as he announced ”The Decision” live. Chris Bosh made it the Big 3.
Miami celebrated its second championship two summers later, and then the third the next season.
Now Wade is retired, medical issues ended Bosh’s career, and LeBron is still at it at age 37 out in Los Angeles, out of the playoffs this season, hanging onto the relevance that as always been his.
And the Miami Heat are in the middle of another championship run -- one win from the NBA Finals, five wins from a fourth parade -- that looks very different indeed.
No 18-wheeler delivered this iteration of Heat basketball. No arena party was thrown, like they had for the Big 3, to celebrate this roster coming together.
Yet here is the Heat, Jimmy Butler’s Heat, in a Sunday Game 7 vs. Boston, in the bayside arena, in a winner-take-all game for the right to meet the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Remember when the Heat traded for Butler in 2019?
The narrative was he’s-good-but-is-he-a-star? Let alone a superstar able to carry a team?) ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith infamously said at the time that Butler was leaving Philadelphia for a worse team and would have a smaller impact in Miami.
“You’ll never be loved like the way you were in Philadelphia,” Smith said. “They [Heat is] not gonna be better than Philadelphia. And he’s not going to be Dwayne Wade.”
Around him Butler has a nice deep team with roster depth a great coaching. It has am Adedbayor, and Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro. It made a smart, strategic offseason get in adding veteran point guard Kyle Lowry.
It also is a roster of journeyman, of the undrafted.
Max Strus has a prominent role here. And Gabe Vincent does. Developmental guys that other top teams might consider spare parts.
This team should not be one win from the NBA FInals, which s why nobody expected it. Disrespect and dirt were kicked on the Heat’s No. 1 seed.
Golden State’s Draymond Green predicted they’d be facing the Celtics. ESPN devoted airtime to imaging what a Warriors-Celtics final would look like. The prediction website fivethirtyeight.com, before the Heat won Game 6 Friday night, detailed why Boston would be a big Finals favorite ver Golden State.
What nobody counted on, or respected enough, was the magnitude of Jimmy Butler’s ability to rise to the stage at just the right time. In his reservoir, saved for special occasions, is the ability to be as great as any player on Earth for a quarter, a night, series? Maybe a postseason.
His Game 6 shook Heat history, recalling old ghosts, recalling LeBron’s 45-point Game 6 10 years earlier in the same building. recalling the night Wade dropped 46 in the playoffs.
If you are judged by the company you keep., it is time to consider Butler for the top echelon in the annals of this franchise. He lacks only a championship to end any contrary argument.
Friday night he scored 47 points, with four 3’s, nine rebounds, eight assists, four steals and a blocked shot.
The Heat claimed motivation from Green dismissively predicting a Finals vs. Boston.
Butler’s edge came from a phone call the day of the game from a familiar voice.
“D-Wade never hits me until his voice is really, really needed,” Butler relayed the call. “And it was. I texted him and told him I really appreciate him for it. Just to let me go out there, continue to build on that legacy and make sure that we win.”
Butler had scored only 27 points in the three previous games combined, on 10-for-40 shooting. His knee hurt. There was no indication he had 47 points in him, though this was his fourth 40 this postseason.
P.J. Tucker had told Butler before Game 6, “Yo, we need 50 [from you].” Tucker wasn’t smiling when he said it. Butler did not say a word.
This is how legacies take shape, and matter for all time.
This how players find and cross that bridge from popular to beloved, and enjoy a city’s embrace forever.