Things were looking bleak for the Miami Heat on February 5. Dwyane Wade was playing through injuries, Shaq wasn't playing at all, and when he did, the Diesel looked more like a jalopy. The Heat had the NBA's worst record, 9-37, and a roster full of guys who were either past their prime (Jason Williams), crazy (Ricky Davis), or just too inexperienced (Dorell Wright). Shaq's contract called for $40 million over the next two years, making it seemingly impossible to move him and limiting the Heat's ability to work around the salary cap. Then, on February 6, came a ray of hope called the Phoenix Suns, who were scrambling to keep pace and make a championship run out of the tough Western Conference.

Trading the disgruntled and unmotivated Shaq for the versatile Shawn Marion and forward Marcus Banks was a big victory for the Heat. Marion can defend all five positions, fills the stat sheet, and could be a great athletic counterpart to Wade. Marion can opt out of his contract at season's end if he decides to forfeit next year's $17.2-million salary, potentially giving the Heat substantial salary-cap space this summer. Shaq's colorful personality will be missed in the Magic City, but getting rid of the behemoth and his equally huge contract will allow the Heat to build for the future around Wade.

Watching Steve Shapiro match wits with superagent Drew Rosenhaus every Sunday night during WSVN's Sports Extra is one of the most comical, entertaining experiences in local television. Throughout the segment, the two exchange barbs while mixing in their thoughts on pending free agent moves, players about to be released from contracts, and other aspects of the business side of sports. With his jaundiced eye, smirking grin, and booming high-pitched voice, Shapiro injects an incredible amount of pizzazz into his coverage of Miami's local teams, whether he's at the Soul Bowl or the Super Bowl. Although some people might find his style abrasive, the Boston native is never afraid to take jabs at his subjects — like the time he nicknamed Miami Hurricanes head coach Randy Shannon "Randy Saban," a not-so-subtly unflattering comparison to ex-Dolphins coach Nick Saban. It was Shapiro's way of chastising Shannon for implementing a strict protocol against the media, much like the Fins' former head man had done. And don't let the sharp duds and dashing good looks fool you. Shapiro is a bright fellow: He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Tufts University and a master's in broadcast journalism from Boston U. He began his career in 1980, covering sports in Roanoke, Virginia, and has anchored sports in Albany, Boston, Cincinnati, Hartford, and Richmond before arriving at WSVN in 1997. In 2003, the station promoted him to sports director.

Alliance Francaise Miami

Think Babel with chocolate croissants and cappuccino. Along with French classes, the Alliance Française on Calle Ocho offers German, Spanish, and English. The center is tucked in the heart of east Little Havana near an auto dealer and storage facility, and its parking lot abuts a Spanish-language Evangelical church. Officially opened in April, the Alliance Française's village houses a travel agency, French-style hair studio called Trini in Private, and La Provence Bakery. It's not uncommon to hear a gracias followed by Cuban-accented merci beaucoup from a customer buying a crusty baguette. The Alliance also hosts events such as lectures on the Middle East and fashion shows by a Haitian designer. If you attend, bring your dictionary. You never know when you'll have to traducir por un étranger.

Sheaun McKinney is a cute, cute kid. If there were a "menace scale" for actors, he'd rate somewhere between Andrea McArdle and Haley Joel Osment. At least, that's how it went until you caught him in Jesus Hopped the "A" Train. For ever after, when you saw him on the sidewalk, you made sure to cross the street. In Jesus, McKinney played a prison guard who was either psychotic or principled, depending on what moral perspective you brought to the show. He thought his inmates were scum, and he treated them as such. Even when Bechir Sylvain, who played a serial killer turned deeply peaceable spiritual guru, was trying to inspire his fellow inmates with righteous, well-meaning pep talks, McKinney was there to rub his face in shit. He seemed to enjoy it. For a great many nervous moments, one suspected McKinney really wanted nothing more than to drag his costars out behind the theater and shoot them. The hell of it is, his convictions were so firmly held and so ardently conveyed that you almost wanted it too.

Miami Theater Center

The memory of Kei Berlin's performance, like a great number of things about Animals & Plants, left everyone who saw it with the queasy suspicion that nothing that followed was its equal. They're right. Playing Kassandra, a sexy hippie chick who works at a head shop in the Carolinas, she blew into the protagonists' motel room in the middle of a blizzard for no reason at all, and the heat from her great big heart seemed apt to melt the snow outside. She had wise and laughing eyes peeking out of a gorgeous face atop a hot young bod, and not only did you want to get to know her but also you felt that, somewhere, you already had. She didn't arrive until late in the play, and when she did, all that had come before seemed incomplete. People could fall in love with this Kassandra, and those who did might now be wondering where in hell Kei has gone since then. She hasn't appeared at Mad Cat, nor at GableStage or New Theatre or anywhere else, as far as we know. Wake up, darling. The world needs you.

Serve.

Located in the heart of South Beach, this court boasts colorful Art Deco apartments as the backdrop for swinging tennis rackets and soaring fuzzy balls.

Love – 15.

The 17 brightly lit clay courts are far enough from camera-toting tourists yet close enough to the inviting surf and sand.

Love – 30.

The practice wall is the spot for singles looking for doubles, and the full-service pro shop is where strings are tightened and expert advice dispensed.

Love – 40.

After three sets of grunting, running, and swinging alongside your neighbors, a dip in Flamingo Park's pool is second to none.

Game. Set. Match.

Miami Theater Center

Mad Cat's just got something. The Carbonells might not see it, billionaire philanthropists have yet to see it, your great-grandmother might have a hard time figuring it out, but it's there. And in the years since the company began, legions of smart young theater people with more taste than money have found Mad Cat and responded. It's partly the tiny, immersive space; partly the company's knack for creepy mood lighting; partly the fabulous taste in music. But mostly it's balls, enthusiasm, and verve — the sense you're entering a space where smart and passionate people are doing what they do best. In any given country in any given decade, it's a good bet there are only a few places where the real art is going down, where the stakes are high and everybody looks and feels like they're on amphetamines, just from the wild rush of creation. Sometimes it's Max's Kansas City; sometimes it's City Lights. Maybe now it's Mad Cat. It's a long shot, but these things do have to start somewhere.

Miami Theater Center

Of course it's Animals & Plants. The competition wasn't even close. Anything you could possibly want out of theater — and a lot of it — could be found in this production. The script, which tells the story of two small-time dope dealers holed up in a snowbound motel, was human, funny, and weird. The acting from Eric Fabregat, Joe Kimble, Kei Berlin, and Scott Genn was inspired, carried out by people who not only got the script, but also who seemed as excited by its possibilities as we were. The set was dankly atmospheric, and there were little moments of pure terror that came out of nowhere, land mines buried deep in the performances, the set, and the dialogue that made the whole endeavor otherworldly. Anybody who watched carefully was moved, and they stayed that way.

From mid-December through mid-February, Miami fell in love with a carnival of freaks that descended on the shores of South Beach. This band of burlesque revivalists pitched its psychedelic tent on the sands of Collins Park, at 21st Street and Collins Avenue. Each performer had his or her own bag of tricks. Nate Cooper, a dashing, muscular fellow, juggled knives while dressed in drag. Raphaelle Boitel, an olive-skinned, dark-haired beauty, lay on her stomach and curled her legs over her head so her feet dangled in front of her face. Julie Atlas Muz, who holds the title of Miss Exotic World 2006, straddled an aesthetic chasm on towering platform heels. Their performances were surpassed only by the raunchy and politically incorrect antics of the potty-mouthed ringmaster known only as "The Gazillionaire." A slender chap dressed in a white tuxedo jacket, black slacks, and sparkly gold pointy-toe shoes to match his lone gold tooth, The Gazillionaire shoved his padded crotch into guests' faces when he wasn't kicking the air or offering women a dollar to show their nipples to the audience. He was once a clown for Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Bros. before landing his gig MCing Spiegelworld's Absinthe and Late Night Lounge. Prior to packing up the tent, he revealed to New Times why he loves the intimacy of his shows: "I want people to feel my sweat." Let's hope The Gazillionaire will get to drip on us again next year.

Whatever will we do when Dwight Lauderdale unclips his mike and steps away from the anchor desk for the last time? The local news legend — South Florida's first black television anchor, we'll have you know — has announced his official retirement will be May 21. "I'll be at home, sipping a little Pinot Noir and watching you," he informed co-anchor Laurie Jennings (who still looks like actress Tiffani-Amber Thiessen disguised as a soccer mom, if you ask us). Why will we miss Mr. Lauderdale so very, very much? Quite simply, there's something compelling about him. He's not afraid to cast a disapproving frown or let that bass voice deepen to an ominous rumble if a story bothers his moral sensibilities. Unlike some local news anchors (ahem, former Deco Drivers), Lauderdale has always prized substance over style. He seems to resent the increasing celebritization of the news. His "whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis" expressions at Jennings's foot-in-mouthisms never fail to bring the LOLs. He reminds us of Marmaduke, in the best possible way.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®