After Early Struggles, Miami Proves It's Tough To Beat The HEAT
The Miami HEAT came into the NBA for the 1988-89 season as part of a two-phase league expansion that also included the Orlando Magic, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Charlotte Hornets. After spending its first few years in the cellar, the franchise began to make progress thanks to a series of shrewd draft selections. Although the Heat failed to achieve a winning season during their first five campaigns, the team stayed close to the break-even point and made it into the playoffs faster than any of its expansion peers.
Miami's front-office strength lay in the basketball savvy of part-owner Cunningham. After a distinguished college career at the University of North Carolina, he had been a first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers. He played 11 years with the Sixers and with the Carolina Cougars of the American Basketball Association, was named to the 1966 NBA All-Rookie Team, made four All-NBA squads, and in 1972-73 was named Most Valuable Player in the ABA. In 1977 Cunningham became head coach of the 76ers. During his career he compiled a 454-196 record for a .698 winning percentage. He guided the team to three NBA Finals and an NBA championship in 1982-83.
The expansion draft wasn't very productive for Miami, but the HEAT did nab Billy Thompson and Jon Sundvold, both of whom gave the young team some stability. Miami fared better in the 1988 NBA Draft. With the ninth selection the HEAT chose Rony Seikaly, a 6-11 center from Syracuse University. Miami used another first-round selection (20th overall) to acquire shooting guard Kevin Edwards of DePaul. In the second round the Heat picked Grant Long, a powerful 6-9, 230-pound forward from Eastern Michigan University who later developed into one of the team's most effective players.
Expansion teams are rarely competitive, and the inaugural Miami squad, coached by former Detroit Pistons assistant Ron Rothstein, was no exception. The HEAT finished 15-67, which was not entirely unexpected, but the team took first-year losing to new extremes in the early part of the season.