Unfortunately, with the closing of Drama 101, competition for this award has dwindled further. But fortunately we still have Mad Cat. This troupe led by Paul Tei dares to be different. It doesn't always work, but that's what experimentation is all about. Mad Cat also has done a great service for Miami in attracting and developing that elusive "younger" audience. From Tin Box Boomerang, written by young local Ivonne Azurdia, about two Mexican-American sisters living in a trailer park; to Shoot, about three young girls and gun culture; and Azurdia's eerie reworking of Edgar Allan Poe in Portrait, this theater has offered up challenging, relevant, and resounding works. On the fringe? Way. And stay there.

Even as Riley (a former championship coach, and one of the NBA's top winners) saw his team take a nosedive in the standings and his pocketbook take a $70,000 hit for post-game tantrums about unfair referees, his hair remained unflappable. Riley has been rocking the evil-stockbroker, Armani-suits-and-slicked-back-coiffure look since the Eighties, and it doesn't look like he'll stop until he keels over (look for a sideline coronary next year if the Heat doesn't get a top-three draft pick) or the situation in the Middle East curtails production on petroleum-based hair-care products.

His stats aren't as good as those of Eddie Jones or Brian Grant, but this 6'7" forward is still a rookie. And while other rookies -- Houston's Yao Ming and Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire -- have caught the media's eye, Butler has played more minutes than any other rookie, and he consistently ranks among the top rookie scorers. He was picked tenth in the 2002 NBA draft, but he was Pat Riley's first pick, an encouraging start at rebuilding a team beset by age, injury, and illness. Butler beat even greater odds just getting to the NBA. The Wisconsin native was a young gang-banger, pushing cocaine for street dealers at age twelve, arrested more than a dozen times, and sentenced to eighteen months in a prison for youthful offenders by age fifteen. That turned out to be his big break. He spent a lot of time on the basketball court, discovered he had a gift -- and the rest is history. As it becomes increasingly clear that Grant and Jones aren't the franchise players their paychecks would suggest, the Heat's hopes for the future have come to rest on Butler's talented shoulders.

Readers Choice: Caron Butler

The searing image from this year's Fiesta Bowl was the collision that left Willis McGahee's knee twisted 45 degrees the wrong direction. The mighty Miami Hurricanes never fully recovered from losing their top rusher and scorer, a runner who demolished team records with 1753 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Worse was McGahee's apparent personal loss. Before the gut-wrenching hit, he was slated to go early in the first round of this year's NFL draft, where big-money contracts are guaranteed. After the accident it seemed he might not ever play again. Fortunately McGahee had taken out a $2.5 million insurance policy shortly before the accident. But after just fifteen weeks of rehab and a miraculous recovery, he didn't need to collect on that policy. In the draft, the Buffalo Bills couldn't pass up this kid despite the blown knee. Why? No one came up bigger for the Canes in critical games last year. He made the Gators look hapless on the way to 204 rushing yards. He ground out 159 yards against Tennessee. And he found the end zone six times in the Virginia Tech game that catapulted the team to the national championship.

Readers Choice: Ken Dorsey

In Tap Tap one night, talking about the successful poet Rashida Bartley, we became aware of a series of horrified snufflings and belchings, air expelled in violent ssssss's, denoting high dudgeon and street-level contempt. Looking around we saw a purplish-colored fellow in seamed black rags, but with a Ritmo wristwatch and red leather Tiffany's journal, small and boiling, like a fissure in a hotspring. When he had our attention he heightened his voice girlishly: For all tha mo-ments wheeen drrreams were not enuff/ to taalk me into seeing da future.... Trikky winked and scrambled closer over the stools, conspirial-voiced now: "See, even dat crap she write can be im-proved if you stretch and break consonants and riddems, twist da spellin's to sound like brakes squealin' an bumpers scrapin' over dem dead O'town lies, mistuh..." He raked our faces with a steel-comb look: Yeah, I did Rimbaud a thousand years ago had Maldoror's ass/ in my kitchen glass Walt Whitman messed and funk-skank blessed y'all tryin' to write what we sow. Trikky asked for our business cards, accepted a double Jameson's, and said he'd call next time he and his buddies slammed.

BEST LEISURE ACTIVITY OTHER THAN CLUBS OR MOVIES

The beach

With winter 2003 one of the coldest and snowiest on record (tee hee!), one should not take for granted the ability to dip one's tootsies in the ocean or bay, with impunity, in the middle of February. Florida natives or long-time residents whose blood has thinned may well shun the sands until midyear, though the height of summer is our least favorite time to go -- scorching sun and bath-water temps are not so refreshing. Still we are blessed with weather that accommodates a beach excursion most any day (barring hurricanes). We recommend you stay through sunset, the better to appreciate the shifting shades of water and sky as day turns to night.

The master. Those familiar black forms and silhouettes that help us travel through Bedia's artistic journeys -- into exile, across seas, to the African motherland, into the spirit world -- returned better and yes, bigger this year, reminding us that the master of Cuban contemporary art lives right here. We saw his recognizable yet singular pieces at Art Basel, the Miami Art Museum, and especially the Fredric Snitzer Gallery. There in an exhibit of new works his black forms took literal shape, the spectral sculptures towering over his other creations, which included painting and installations that thematically meshed at the intersection of the spiritual and material worlds. His pieces are now held by museums across the globe, and he was recently spotlighted in two big shows in New York City and at Stanford University. But Bedia is still our best.

Even with an injured hand, Lamar Murphy, native son of Overtown, continues to win professional lightweight bouts. At a recent Miami Fight Night, the 30-year-old brawler dominated Colombian rival Isidro Tejedor, landing vicious left jabs and uppercuts. Despite an injured right, his fleet feet and stubborn resolve scored the points he needed. With a 29-6 record, the 135-pound Murphy is ranked top contender in his weight division by the U.S. Boxing Association and number twelve by the International Boxing Federation. Twice he's fought for championship belts, narrowly losing one decision in 1996. Now he's clawing his way to the top again, angling for a chance at another title match. When that right hand fully heals, watch out.

The fact that "Patty" is so easy to chant is not the reason 107-pound junior flyweight champion Patricia Martinez wins fans at her bouts. This 32-year-old Chicana, who works as a legal interpreter, is a scrappy, fast, and fearless slugger. She won the U.S. National Amateur Championships in 1997. As a pro she's been unstoppable, amassing a 10-1 record and garnering the number-one junior flyweight ranking from the Women's International Boxing Association. Though her record may win her fighting credibility, it's her skill that has earned her ringside respect. This past March 13, for example, she pummeled number-five-ranked contender Wendy Rodriguez in a six-round match. Rodriguez was ineffective against Martinez's reach, and ended up bloodied. Meanwhile the champ emerged unscathed and worked the crowd. Martinez, in January, knocked out challenger Nancy Bonilla with a fierce flurry of punches in the first round. The fight lasted just one minute, twenty seconds before the ref stopped it.

It's more than a Website. It's an Internet broadcast station with a worldwide audience and a studio three stories above the Miami Beach intersection of Lincoln Road and Washington Avenue. The Womb has nurtured a growing collective of local electronic-music artists and DJs since 1997, when it lit the airwaves as a pirate radio station. Today the site broadcasts live streaming sounds 24/7, with segments spotlighting a variety of dance genres. If listening isn't enough, a video feed called WombTV offers a peek inside the studio as DJ antics ensue. Turntable tricks are the usual treat but keep your eyes peeled -- you might get flashed by a daredevil DJ during a wee-hours set. User-friendliness is key for most cyber surfers, and everything here is easy to navigate. Plus the site's format spares the clutter of pop-ups and banners. Everything you'll need to listen and view the Womb can be downloaded from the site, no charge. About the only thing that does cost any dinero are the digital downloads on sale at the site's music store. This is the only place you can find MP3s of original productions by local underground faves like the Spam Allstars, trance master Ariel Baund, or the Womb's founder Duncan Ross. The coolest thing about the Womb, though, has to be the welcoming little mascot on the home page -- a floating fetus.

Readers Choice: www.the305.com

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®