HEAT Legends Enter NBA's Top 75 Team
By Azam Masood
Dwyane Wade A Flash of Brilliance Ignites the Franchise Flame for Two Decades
Dwyane Wade stands as the most decorated player in HEAT franchise history. His HEAT jersey hangs in the rafters, as do banners commemorating the three NBA Championships and a Team USA Gold medal won in 2008. 25,420 points, 6,156 assists, 1,893 steals, and 1,055 blocked shots were accrued during his 15-season tenure with the HEAT when combining regular season and playoff statistics, and yet, these near-unparalleled numbers undersell the sheer experience of watching Dwyane Wade on the floor: Peerless end-to-end speed combined with the temerity to suss out a hitherto unseen path to the rim made D-Wade one of the most unique forces the NBA has ever seen. Add maybe the sharpest passing chops from a shooting guard and a flair for heroics (Do a search for "Dwyane Wade Career Game-Winners" whenever you need a pick-me-up), and you have the closest thing to a real-life superhero the franchise has ever known.
LeBron James The Coronation
The four-year HEAT tenure of LeBron James remains one of the most dominant stretches of basketball seen in modern NBA history. Two MVPs (the only HEAT player to win the award), four All-NBA 1st team selections, four appearance in the NBA Finals, and two Finals MVPs helped solidify LeBron as not only one of the greatest players of his generation but any era of NBA basketball. His HEAT regular-season averages of 26.9 points (highest per-game average in team history), 7.6 rebounds, and 6.7 assists alongside a mind-boggling 54.3% from the field only partially demonstrate the manner in which James would systematically dismantle opposing teams, best exemplified by the 27-game winning streak (the second-longest winning streak in NBA history) the 2012-2013 HEAT would embark on their way to their third NBA Championship.
Shaquille O'Neal A Promise Kept "Remember this: I will bring a championship to Miami. I promise."
Shaquille O'Neal was right of course. The HEAT, a franchise whose previous high water mark was making the Eastern Conference Finals (in 1997), would secure their very first title with Shaq in tow. The big man would help change the complexion of the entire organization, with the team averaging just under 52 wins in his three full HEAT seasons. Shaq would earn a pair of All-NBA 1st team selections (including a razor-thin 2nd place MVP finish in 2005), as well as make three All-Star teams during his HEAT tenure, and helped guide Miami to the postseason each of his three years. Dwyane Wade, who Shaq dubbed "The Flash," is rightfully recognized for his own dominant playoff and NBA Finals performances in 2006, but Shaq deserves special recognition for his performance in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons, who beat Miami in the 2005 Conference Finals, were the best regular season team in the NBA that year, winning a league-high 64 games, but Shaq would produce some of his best games in a HEAT uniform against those very Pistons, including a dominant 28-point, 16-rebound, 5-block clincher to send Miami to the Finals.
Ray Allen The Corner That Saved a Title
When Ray Allen joined the Miami HEAT in 2012, the former Buck, Supersonic, and Celtic was already number one on the NBA's all-time made threes list. The HEAT, coming off a title, suddenly appeared to have an embarrassment of riches, adding a 10-time All-Star to an already deep pool of talent and shooting. Allen, long feared by HEAT fans in large part due to his showings as a Celtic, would suddenly become a beloved ally off the bench for the club, giving LeBron James and Dwyane Wade perhaps the deadliest kick-out option the league had seen to that point. Ray often served as a closer (his 89.4% mark from the free throw line still stands as a club record) and hit multiple game-winning and go-ahead shots in the regular season. Of course, Ray's most important three did not come courtesy of James or Wade, but off of a bear hug of an offensive rebound and kick out from Chris Bosh that would tie Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals and allow the HEAT to win the ensuing overtime and Game 7.
Gary Payton The Glove's Guile is Miami's Gain
On nearly the 10th anniversary of arguably the worst heartbreak of Gary Payton's career, falling in the 1996 Finals to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, the veteran point guard would turn his and the HEAT's fortunes around. Down 2-0 in the 2006 NBA Finals and facing a 13-point 4th quarter deficit, Miami rode the shoulders of a 24-year-old Dwyane Wade to even the score. But it was Payton's shot, a subtle pump-fake from the three into a one-dribble mid-range pull-up, that would unknot the game and give the HEAT the lead with only seconds to spare. The 2006 HEAT would go on to win the title and further solidly the now-Hall-of-Famer Payton's standing as one of the most feared two-way players of the 90s and 2000s.