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Call it a meltdown in the Middle East.
But shortly before tip-off of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Raanan Katz, the Miami Heat's Israeli-born minority owner, called on his fellow countrymen to pray at the Western Wall for a Heat victory, according to an Israeli online media report. "God can always help; we need him on our side against Dallas," Katz told Ynetnews.com reporter Amir Bogen.
This past Monday morning, while waiting to catch a flight back to the subtropics from the Lone Star State, Katz downplayed his solicitation for divine intervention. "It was a little joke," he said via cell phone. "I don't expect anyone to pray for the team."
As the team struggles to catch up and hometown attention is heaped on majority owner Micky Arison Katz is the forgotten man of the Heat brass. Along with Latin crooner Julio Iglesias, apparel maker Sidney Kimmel, and former cruise line executive Robert Sturges, he owns a combined twelve percent of the team's stock. The vigorous, handsome former basketball player has been a courtside fixture since the team's inaugural season.
Katz was born on a kibbutz in the northern part of Israel, where as a ten-year-old boy he honed his basketball skills on a dirt half-court with a netless hoop. In his early twenties, Katz made the Israeli national basketball team and earned a reputation as an excellent outside shooter. In 1962 the Boston Celtics invited him to training camp but then trimmed him from the roster. Katz says he was edged out by John Havlicek (who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984).
Later the same year, Katz played for the U.S. All-Stars, the sparring team for the Harlem Globetrotters. "We would always spot them six free baskets during games," Katz recalls, explaining why the Globetrotters would always emerge victorious. "It was pure entertainment."
In 1965 Katz settled down in Boston, where he spent fifteen years amassing rental properties. In 1980 he switched from residential to commercial. Four years later, Katz moved to South Florida and began acquiring commercial properties all over Miami-Dade.
He bought a piece of the team before its first game in 1986. In the early years, before the Heat moved from the Miami Arena to its Biscayne Boulevard palace, majority owners Billy Cunningham and Lewis Schaffel controlled the franchise with an iron fist.
In 1995 Katz sued Schaffel and Cunningham to stop the duo from selling their interest in the Heat to Wayne Huizenga's brother-in-law, Whit Hudson. Katz dropped the complaint later that year when Micky Arison and his father Ted bought out Schaffel and Cunningham for $60 million.
Today Katz likes to talk about his playmaking abilities. "I shoot and play like I'm 28-year-old," the six-foot-one former guard says. "My specialty is the three-point shot."
His company, RK Associates, owns and leases ten shopping centers in the county mostly in the north end. In Sunny Isles Beach, Katz is the stuff of legend. Mayor Norman Edelcup dubbed this past May 18 "Raanan Katz Day" because of Katz's success as a developer and landlord. There is hardly a business in sight that doesn't rest under his company's logo a basketball stamped with Katz's initials swishing through a net.
"He's tall, well built," said the manager of a Perfumania store in a Katz-owned shopping center at 169th Street and Collins Avenue. "He's tough," he added with a wide grin. But he declined further comment and refused to give his name.
David Reiser, who owns a UPS store and a Mail Boxes Etc. in two of Katz's strip malls, lauded the businessman's acumen. "He's a diplomat," Reiser said. "He's brought in good, national tenants." When asked if he knew of Katz's call to prayer for the Heat, Reiser chuckled. "If it hadn't been a request, it would have been a demand," he said. "It's certainly well known that he cares about [the Heat]."
Katz is also part owner of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club, which recently was defeated by CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague final four, ending the Israeli team's two-year reign as champs. Katz said he would actually have preferred a third crown for Maccabi rather than a first title for the Heat. "For some reason, I take Maccabi's loss more to heart," Katz admitted.
Writing fellow Calvin Godfrey contributed to this report