2005–06: 15 Strong

Just months removed from vying for the franchise’s first trip the NBA Finals, HEAT President Pat Riley knew moves had to be made in order to keep Miami in championship contention. His busy off season got started by selecting Wayne Simien from the University of Kansas with the 29th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft on June 28, 2006. About a month later, the HEAT locked up the starting front court of Shaquille O’Neal and Udonis Haslem by re-signing them to long term deals. The re-signing of O’Neal, who opted out of his deal with one year remaining, gave the HEAT spending flexibility and set the stage for an historic trade. The HEAT acquired Jason Williams, Antoine Walker and James Posey in a five-team, 13-player-trade—the largest trade in NBA history. Miami reluctantly parted with long-time swingman Eddie Jones, who was sent to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of the deal.

The HEAT wrapped up its very busy off-season by bringing back key contributors from the 2004-05 playoff run. Alonzo Mourning, who was contemplating retirement, announced he was coming back and the HEAT re-signed NBA veteran Shandon Anderson. Miami later solidified its championship roster with the free-agent signing of nine-time All-Star Gary Payton.

Now, with a stout roster which included five players with a combined 34 All-Star appearances, the HEAT looked poised to get over the hump and bring Miami its first NBA championship. However, the road to the title got off to a bumpy start.

After an impressive opening day win at Memphis, the HEAT received a crushing blow the next game when Shaquille O’Neal collided with Ron Artest and went down with a sprained right ankle that caused him to miss the next 18 games. The HEAT went 9-9 in his absence, but they would lose another member of the team on December 12 when Head Coach Stan Van Gundy stepped down for personal and family reasons. Riley would assume head coaching responsibilities.

Although they went into the All-Star break with two All-Stars, O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, and the Eastern Conference’s second best record, the HEAT, who had eight new players and a new head coach from the previous season, had yet to find the consistency they were hoping for. And their inconsistency woes continued until they met the Mavericks and were shellacked 112-76 in Dallas. The HEAT used that loss as motivation and won their next 10 games and 15 of their next 16. During that win streak Alonzo Mourning appeared in his 487th game as a member of the HEAT, a new franchise record, surpassing Assistant Coach Keith Askins in Miami’s 107-104 win over the Celtics at the AmericanAirlines Arena.

By March 19, the HEAT downed the Knicks at Madison Square Garden to secure its 11th postseason berth, needing just 66 games, tying the fewest games in franchise history needed to clinch a playoff spot.

However, despite clinching a No. 2 seed, Miami would head into the post season losing their last three contests, and four of six overall.

But the postseason would truly be a new season for the HEAT – defeating the feisty Bulls, 4-2, in the Opening Round. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the HEAT was up against Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets and things started off ugly for the HEAT, losing 100-88 in Miami.

Just days following the embarrassing defeat, President and Head Coach Pat Riley’s famous “15 Strong Ring of Faith” appeared in the team locker room and Miami went on to win the next four games against the Nets to face the Detroit Pistons, in a rematch of the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals.

The 2005 series would end up sweet as the HEAT defeated the defending Eastern Conference champions, 4-2, to make its first trip to the Finals against the heavily favored Dallas Mavericks.

The HEAT was handled by the Dallas Mavericks in the first two games in Dallas, losing 90-80 and 99-85 in the first two games, respectively. And Dallas’ dominance continued until the fourth period of Game 3 when the HEAT overcame a 13-point deficit during the final 6:34 to record a 98-96 victory. And after Miami tied the series at two games apiece, Wade took over in Game 5, knocking down a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining to help the HEAT take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Dallas.

With Miami needing just one game to win its first ever NBA title, Riley decided to pack lightly for his return trip to Dallas, bringing just one suit, one shirt and one tie in hopes of returning to Miami after Game 6 as champions.

Wade helped rally the HEAT from a 14-point deficit to defeat the Mavericks, 95-92, at the American Airlines Center. He was also named NBA Finals MVP after averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.67 steals and 1.00 blocks in the six-game series. The HEAT became only the third team in NBA Finals history to lose the first two games of the series to come back to win the championship. That vision of a championship parade down Biscayne Boulevard Riley spoke of when he first arrived in 1995 was finally realized.

The HEAT’s championship season was culminated on June 23, 2006 when approximately 250,000 fans gathered in downtown Miami along Biscayne Boulevard for the HEAT’s championship parade and rally at the AmericanAirlines Arena.