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| Columns |

Give Heat Fans Credit for Sticking by Their Team This Season

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Miami Heat fans are a spoiled bunch. They should know — most are also Dolphins fans who have waited nearly five decades for another Super Bowl win, so they are well aware that getting three titles in 11 years is legit good.

Being a spoiled Heat fan, however, doesn't mean you're a bandwagon jumper. In fact, there's a good argument that being spoiled makes you a better fan. This season is the proof.

The 2016-17 season has been one of the toughest Heat fans have ever experienced. The loss of LeBron James stacked on the loss of Chris Bosh stacked on the loss of greatest-athlete-in-the-history-of-South-Florida Dwyane Wade should have been enough to give Miamians a reason to take this year off. The frenzy of one-year stop-gap signings that followed the failed half-hearted attempt to bring Wade back to Miami could have easily pissed off Heat Nation enough to put the team in timeout.

But it didn't. Heat fans, as they have repeatedly shown in the past, have proven to be one of the most passionate fan bases in the NBA. The Heat has sold more tickets than the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs this season, seventh-most in the NBA.

Not only that, but "Let's go Heat" chants on the road — where the home teams sell almost 96 percent of their tickets when the Heat is in town — are now the norm. Miami's brand is in the top tier of NBA teams. The Heat might not be the Lakers or Celtics yet, but it's getting there.

Heat fans have more than proven a roster full of newcomers would not deter them from being just as passionate as they were when the team led SportsCenter every night. The best sign, ironically, that Heat fans would remain engaged regardless of the team's performance might have come when the team was 11-30. Back then, debate centered around whether it would be better for the Heat in the long term to continue losing to score a high draft pick or to turn around its record for an improbable playoff run.

The fact that fans on the draft-pick side of that debate cared enough to strike up the conversation is all you need to know about Heat fans; they care, in their own ways, about the team and its future. You never hear your average Marlins fan talk about the MLB draft when the team is tanking — they just check out at some point during the season.

Now that the Heat has actually done the improbable — ripped off an insane 13-game winning streak to push into playoff contention — Miami fans will continue doing what they've done all along: packing the American Airlines Arena and screaming their lungs out for the Heat. That's the sign of a great fan base.

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