By Michael E. Miller
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The team's attitude has frustrated Knox, especially in light of the level of support Overtown residents have shown the Heat and the arena, even during riots. "I know that during the last disturbance in Overtown, some young men in the area stood in front of the arena and chided others not to harm the arena," he recalls. Knox also points out that in more than eight years there has never been any graffiti on the exterior of the building, a fact confirmed by the arena's general manager Robert Franklin.
"When that arena was built, they created a sanctuary in Overtown," says Knox. "The residents have treated the building like it was a sacred place; they've treated it with respect. And to date the Heat has not returned that respect to the community." Team officials often brag about how many free tickets they pass out to underprivileged kids, Knox adds, but free tickets and free Heat T-shirts and Heat bookmarks are not going to help change young lives. According to Knox, the team just doesn't seem to understand that fact.
Heat spokesman Mark Pray says the franchise has donated more than $400,000 to various charities over the past year, and he produced a list of programs and groups to prove it. Among the recipients are several AIDS-related organizations, including the Magic Johnson Foundation. Also on the list: the United States Olympic Committee, the United Way, the Special Olympics, the Miami Coalition for a Drug-Free Community, the Paralyzed Veterans Association of Florida, the Make-a-Wish Foundation of South Florida. And this doesn't include the millions of dollars donated each year through Carnival Cruise Lines and the Arison Foundation. This past June -- while the Midnight Basketball program was shut down -- the Arison family donated $40 million worth of Carnival Cruise Line stock to the New World Symphony.
The material Pray provided also lists as one of the Heat's "cash beneficiaries" the Overtown NET service center. NET stands for Neighborhood Enhancement Team, a city-operated office coordinating police and municipal services in the area. A spokesman for the NET office says the donation, which was made this past summer, totaled $550.
Forty million dollars for an elite orchestra.
Five hundred fifty dollars for Overtown.
The Heat claims they also distributed nearly $5000 in food last year during Thanksgiving and offered financial assistance to groups such as Camillus House and the Homeless Assistance Center. This, the team boasts, brought their cash commitment to the Overtown area to somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000.
Which is probably about as much money as the franchise spent producing the glossy, sixteen-page color booklet touting its civic generosity, titled "The Miami Heat: Reaching Out to the Community."
"The Miami Heat always talks good about their involvement in the Overtown community, but when it comes time to deliver they have a piss-poor track record," says Bill Perry, former executive director of the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority. "It seems they are only willing to try to help this community when it somehow serves their own interests."
Arthemon Johnson, the principal at Booker T. Washington Middle School, which is about fifteen blocks from the arena, says that on occasion a Heat representative visits his school and talks to the students. "They pass out a lot of material, they hand out T-shirts and things like that, but it's a once or twice a year situation and I sort of doubt the effect it has on the kids," Johnson observes. "It's not a bad idea, but I still think the Midnight Basketball program helps more kids in a real and serious way.