A Fan's Notes

Go Marlins! Go Panthers! Go Heat! Go to hell.

All in all, not a bad assessment of what downtown has gotten from the Heat.
Last season the Warriors suffered so many injuries that their starting five played together for a grand total of two minutes. I saved a newspaper clipping that commemorates the nadir of the bleak campaign, in which they fielded a team of just six players (three of them rookies) in a game against the Denver Nuggets. The injury list grew so long at one point that an assistant coach was called upon to play. This is true.

This year four of the Warriors' five starters were sidelined on opening night. Tim Hardaway and Sarunas Marciulionis crumpled their knees and will be out for the entire season. Chris Mullin busted a pinky. Rookie first-round draft pick Chris Webber twisted his ankle. Not long ago, coach Don Nelson told a reporter that he sometimes wondered what horrible thing he might have done as a child to deserve such bad luck. It was a statement that made sense coming from Nelson, whose potato-sack face radiates a sadness that approaches contrition. He looks like a man who is continually being awakened from a deep and abiding sleep to find himself terribly hung-over.

A few weeks later I called George Shirk, the Warriors' beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. I told him I needed to find out about the Warriors' desire to move to a new arena, as that might relate to the Heat's effort. But that was just an excuse. Actually, I wanted to quiz him about the club's prospects. "The Warriors are a dead team," he declared icily. "Dead. They can't compete this year. How are they going to beat the Phoenix Suns? With a bunch of reserves? They'll be lucky to get a good draft choice next year."

I called a little time-out after he hung up, during which I stifled my initial reaction -- sending Shirk a letter bomb -- and came to realize I should be thankful. Don Nelson had the rest of the league exactly where he wanted them: overconfident.

"Wayne. Wayne. WAAAAAYNE!"
One of the more amusing subplots during the Heat's opening night histrionics was the sight of H. Wayne Huizenga attempting to extract himself from The Commoners. Friar Tuck hairdo moussed flat, a nervous smile pasted on, The Mogul was besieged as he sped toward an exit at halftime.

"Wayne. Wayne. WAAAAAYNE!"
He was hailed like a conquering hero, like a rock star. Kids lined the aisles. Mothers shoved their babies toward him. Chubby ex-jocks ran to touch the hem of his coat. In a gesture of almost heartbreaking Americanism, they begged him to sign their currency. Startled by the assembly, Mont Blanc pen drawn in self-defense, Huizenga latched onto his wife's arm and fled. He is not one for displays of public groveling. Unless, of course, they come from politicians prepared to subsidize his business undertakings.

No shortage of those. Ever since Huizenga proposed building the so-called Wayne's World sports/amusement megacomplex, local chieftains have been taking turns bussing his buns. This is, after all, the Deal to End All Deals.

As set out this past May, the plan called for Huizenga to snap up 400 to 500 acres, presumably in North Dade. Virtually overnight (and with nary a peep from anyone), that figure ballooned to more than 2300 acres. The Mogul has tentatively settled on a site straddling the Dade-Broward line, mostly in Broward. The area is wetlands -- or "muck" as it is routinely referred to in the media -- that once helped sustain the River of Grass. Wayne wants to pave it over and construct a baseball stadium, hockey arena, golf course, movie studio, marine stadium, amusement park, and pedestrian mall.

Last week the Metro Commission, desperate for a piece of the action, agreed to buy Wayne a 438-acre parcel of state-owned land for four million dollars. For the past month Dade officials had trumpeted the sale as a panacea. The park, commissioners bleated, will create jobs, reduce crime, even dampen ethnic tensions. "Your action today is going to go a long way to help this community unite itself," said Rep. Luis Rojas, in thanking the governor's cabinet for okaying the sale. State Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher was so smitten with the whole idea that he cited a state law that awards up to $60 million in sales-tax rebates to pro sports franchises. (A quick $120 million, billable to the Florida taxpayers!)

Then Wayne very quietly slipped us the rest of the tab. One of his many lawyers suggested Dade County taxpayers pay at least $100 million for the proposed hockey arena, and Broward kick in $250 million for the baseball stadium. That's not counting the millions we'll have to shell out for new roads, sewers, and water lines. Almost as an afterthought, Huizenga and his fleet of high-priced lobbyists began maneuvering to designate Wayne's World as an autonomous "development district," which would render the project virtually immune to governmental regulation. Dade, Broward, and state officials are already nodding their agreement.

The situation is absurd and ironic. Most cities, after all, offer big money up-front for sports teams. Jacksonville committed to spending $121 million to coax a pro football team. St. Petersburg spent $139 million building a domed baseball stadium, only to be snubbed in favor of the Marlins. Here in Miami, it's been just the opposite. Our two new franchises landed in our laps, seemingly free of cost. Now Huizenga, having shrewdly given the natives a taste of big league validation, is running up the tab, knowing that no politician in his right mind will dare oppose any project that keeps the home team happy. Or, more to the point, home.

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