BEST FRINGE THEATER Mad Cat Theatre The Light Box Studio

3300 Biscayne Boulevard, #100

Miami

305-576-6377 Between hurricane threats and last-minute schedule changes, this wasn't the Cat's luckiest season. But it remains the most interesting and original theater company in South Florida. The acting ensemble, which works out of the Miami Light Project's Light Box studio, is particularly notable because the members concentrate on shows for young adults, a vital audience that virtually every other theater company in these parts ignores. They also write much of what they produce and perform. The Cats take chances with every show, and the result is fresh and full of risks that pay off.

BEST GIRLS' DAY OUT Rik Rak Salon and Spa 1428 Brickell Avenue

Miami

305-371-5577 It's easy to visualize the agent and the TV network exec getting together to negotiate this concept: What happens when a clothing store owner and a hair stylist get together? They open a full salon and spa featuring racks of designer clothes, shoes, and accessories. The sets alone would be enough to carry the show, especially with gorgeous Miami location shots. Even better: real life in the land of the permanent vacation. Raquel and Richard Watters have been married and in business together for twenty years, and they make sure that everyone who enters their bustling salon is treated like a star, whether it be Nicole Kidman, Beyoncé, or a starving writer who doesn't even have an agent. "You can walk in from the gym," says Raquel, "get your hair, nails, and makeup done, and then I will dress you from head to toe, including purse, shoes, and jewelry." The salon offers full massages, waxing, facials, manicures, and pedicures. And with a bar featuring fine wines, gourmet coffee and tea, and even empanadas, you can spend the entire day at the spa and not go hungry -- or care about what's on TV.

BEST HEAT PLAYER Shaquille O'Neal Sure, the way young Dwyane Wade dunks over opposing centers and dishes out dimes like candy at a parade is a thing of grace and grandeur. The way Damon Jones, who looks more like your neighbor than an NBA guard, swagger-skips down the court after one of his automatic three balls brings smiles. And the rest, a gathering of talent that brought a season of joy to this sports-loving city, deserve commendation. But the abundant wins, the reason the seats filled up for each game, the Heat's ability to spend so much time this year as odds-on favorites for the Eastern Conference crown can all be attributed to the fact that the most dominant center in the league for the past ten years now wears the black and red. When the team traded its entire starting front three for Shaq, it received much more than an athlete. He's a Greek play in four periods, the human colossus, court jester and king, Santa Claus on Christmas, and the Fort Knox of NBA hardware. Other teams can't stop him because, as he says, "I'm like the Pythagorean theorem: No one has an answer to my game." With a nickname for any occasion -- from the Big Aristotle to Shaq Shogun to the Big Diesel -- he never takes himself too seriously. He jokes with the media, is generous to the fans and the community, and is beloved by his peers. Shaq's main contribution has been the way he's created off-court camaraderie with the other players by engaging them in social activities. Going to movies or dinner together may not be much at first glance, but many marriages, and perhaps one championship, have been built on same. Take a big smirking bow, number 32.

Readers´ Choice: Dwyane Wade

BEST HURRICANE PREDICTIONS Weather Underground www.wunderground.com/tropical This season, when you get tired of phrases such as "this is what the track of the hurricane will look like if it takes a sharp, impossible turn and heads straight into downtown Miami" and you want a reasonable prognostication about where any storm might be heading, the place to go is the Weather Underground. The Website presents some of the same models that the TV forecasters use to make those cone-shaped prediction maps, but without the hours of speculative fodder broadcast alongside them. The site is simple to use and free, providing a bevy of other images, information, and links to similar meteorological sites, all adding to a fuller picture. You might even find out it's sunny outside.

BEST HURRICANES FOOTBALL PLAYER Eric Winston In a year when Hurricanes football was down (no national title contention or Heisman Trophy candidates), why not recognize the usually unrecognized: the unsung heroes of the offensive line. For all the great quarterbacks, receivers, and backs the University of Miami has produced, there's been a legacy of equally outstanding offensive linemen, including NFL first-rounders Vernon Carey and Bryant McKinnie. This year the big man on campus is offensive tackle Eric Winston. Combining athleticism (he was recruited as an RB/TE for chrissakes), size (6-7, 310), intelligence, and power, Winston was switched from tight end to left tackle as a sophomore and excelled in that extremely important position. His efforts earned him MVP honors. Winston didn't need a griddle to make pancakes as he flattened opponents by the stack. Though he was sidelined with an injury in 2004, his senior year should place him among the elite in the nation and keep the orange-and-green offense moving forward.

Readers´ Choice: Antrel Rolle

BEST LEISURE ACTIVITY OTHER THAN CLUBS OR MOVIES

Reading at the beach

BEST LEISURE ACTIVITY OTHER THAN CLUBS OR MOVIES Reading at the beach Wake up Sunday morning. Grab the paper, glossy magazine, maybe a current book of interest. Slather on SPF 30 sunblock. Don swim trunks, flip-flops, straw hat, dark shades. Pack bottled water, roast beef-Gruyre-tomato dagwood, and fresh grapes and apples in cooler. Put cooler in trunk of car along with umbrella and chair. Take Collins Avenue to southern end of Haulover Beach. Pay five-dollar parking fee. Scan beach from behind shades. Select spot far from family with screaming tykes, teens with radio, and couple with dog. In fact avoid any sentient life forms. Plant butt in chair under umbrella, take deep breath. Crack open Grisham-Steele-Dostoyevsky-Garcia Márquez-Hemingway tome. Exhale slowly. This is why we live here.

BEST LOCAL ARTIST Hernan Bas Finally a Miami artist worthy of the hype. There's a reason everyone from Mera Rubell to Michael Ovitz is singing the praises of New World School of the Arts graduate Hernan Bas. His evocative paintings are striking enough to have earned them a slot in the Whitney Biennial, though you hardly need an art expert to explain their appeal. The eye is immediately drawn to Bas's waiflike young men, homoerotically leaping into each other's arms or flitting across dreamlike landscapes. If his portraiture is at times a bit too enraptured with teen angst, well, Bas is barely out of his teens himself. And watching his talent continue to mature is going to be one of the Miami art scene's greatest pleasures.

BEST LOCAL BOXER James Abdullah Shortly after dusk inside Allapattah's Teo Cruz Boxing Gym, manager Pedro Valerio is busy assisting black and Hispanic boys and men in their bids to master the sweet science. Skinny lightweight and middleweight contenders from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American nations methodically pound at punching bags that are patched with duct tape. Two Puerto Rican kids, one no older than ten, the other a whisker shy of twelve, clutch and swing at each other inside the main ring. Just outside the ring a chiseled black warrior works on his hand speed, jabbing lightning-fast punches into an invisible opponent. He is James Abdullah, a rugged 22-year-old pugilist from Overtown who wants to be the next Roy Jones, Jr. "If he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll be a world champ," Valerio says. "He's got the speed, the size, the skills." The 175-pound light-heavyweight has been tearing up Florida's amateur boxing circuit. Abdullah's record stands at 12-4. Last year the slugger was crowned Golden Gloves champ of his weight class. "I was into a lot of stuff out in the streets until Valerio let me join his gym for free five years ago," Abdullah recalls. "I haven't stopped boxing since. Now I want the fame, the glory, and everything professional boxing can offer."

BEST LOCAL SPORTS COACH Stan Van Gundy Miami Heat Much has been written about Stan Van Gundy, almost all of it centered on his humble demeanor and rumpled wardrobe, both in stark contrast to his mentor and the coach he unexpectedly replaced in 2003, NBA legend Pat Riley. Since the leadership change, columnists and sports-radio wiseacres have overused the word dumpy, made fun of Van Gundy's mustache, and generally ignored the fact that the man can coach. Sure, he has Shaq and Dwyane Wade (and Riley whispering in his ear), but Van Gundy took a Shaq-less Heat team much further into the playoffs than anyone expected last year, and he's used role players Michael Doleac, Damon Jones, and Keyon Dooling brilliantly this year. Yes, Shaq Shogun is the baddest man on the floor, but if the Heat finally reach the promised land this year, credit must go to the man behind the man.

Readers´ Choice: Stan Van Gundy

BEST LOCAL WEBSITE www.artblog.net It would seem that Miami plays host to two gentlemen by the name of Franklin Einspruch. There's the Einspruch best known to readers of the New Times as a thoughtful, considered, and genteel art critic. Then there's the Einspruch who produces artblog, a freewheeling site where he shoots from the hip about the Miami art scene, waxing poetic on the good, the bad, and the aesthetically ugly. Best of all, once Einspruch has offered his delightfully bitchy piece, much of the local art community -- artists, gallery owners, fellow critics, and the entire intellectual peanut gallery -- weighs in to post comments, responses, and angry back-and-forths concerning everything from new shows to hyperbolic reviews. Call it an ongoing testament to that part of Miami's creative energy which rarely makes it into newsprint.

Readers´ Choice: www.eveinterrupted.com

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®