Why the Miami Heat Are the Most Hated Team in the NBA | Miami New Times


Why the Miami Heat Are the Most Envied Team in the NBA

Damian Lillard's affinity for Miami is stoking NBA fans' Heat envy.
The Miami Heat pose with the Bob Cousy Trophy after defeating the Boston Celtics 103-84 in the Eastern Conference Finals on May 29, 2023, in Boston.
The Miami Heat pose with the Bob Cousy Trophy after defeating the Boston Celtics 103-84 in the Eastern Conference Finals on May 29, 2023, in Boston. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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In the infamous words of Jesse Pinkman referring to meth kingpin Walter White's ability to evade consequences for his actions in the TV series Breaking Bad: "He can't keep getting away with it!"

When it comes to the NBA, a similar sentiment is felt toward the Miami Heat and the franchise's reality-bending ability to defy all odds in reinventing itself.

The most recent round of incredulity, envy, or hate — call it what you will — comes as the Heat once again find themselves at the center of the NBA conversation, with Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard openly expressing his desire for a trade to Miami, and only to Miami. On the cusp of the Heat landing a superstar, everyone outside of South Florida seems to agree that Lillard should go anywhere besides the place he's requested.

Why? Because it's Miami. Per the jaundiced onlookers, the Heat can't keep getting away with competing for championships without the years-long lulls and struggles that other teams typically endure.

The Heat cultivated a polarizing reputation early in their young yet storied history. But how, and exactly when did they become your favorite team's favorite team to hate?

Let's pop in the VHS tape, hit rewind, and reminisce about where the animosity all started.

Pat Riley Leaves "Mecca" for Miami

As with many supervillains, the origin story of how the Miami Heat became the most loathed team in the NBA begins in New York.

Before the Miami Heat secured Pat Riley from the New York Knicks in exchange for a first-round draft pick and $1 million in 1995, they were just the cute underdog expansion team that Michael Jordan occasionally used as a tuneup in the first round of the playoffs. If anything, America enjoyed watching the try-hard Heat teams led by the likes of Rony Seikaly and Glen Rice play the role of Buster Douglas to the Chicago Bulls as Mike Tyson.

The thing about Pat Riley is that he's not so interested in playing the role of the underdog, and soon enough, the Heat went from underdog to top dog by trading for Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

Riley quickly built a team that became a legitimate contender.

The team went on to win 61 games in the 1996-'97 season and 55 games the following season. No championship was had, and New York often got the best of the Heat, but Miami made it clear they were in it to win it from that point on, feelings be damned. 

Shaq in the Magic City

Younger Miami Heat fans might be wondering why naysayers seem to think the Heat aren't worthy of Lillard joining the team — but the narrative that the team doesn't deserve a star player isn't a new one. That began in 2004 when the Heat fleeced the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade for Shaquille O'Neal, a move that leveled up the franchise and made it a globally recognized brand overnight.

Back then, Kobe Bryant and Shaq were ruling the NBA landscape and winning titles in dominating fashion, yet they couldn't seem to get along. Shaq wanted a bigger contract and more credit for the Lakers' successes, but Los Angeles chose instead to appease Kobe by shipping Shaq to Miami in a league-altering multiplayer deal that led to the Heat winning its first title in 2006.

By this point, the Heat had managed to make both New York and Los Angeles media and fans very mad at them. If you want to become a villain, pissing off America's two biggest fan bases is a solid starter pack.

Marc Cuban Cries Foul

Nearly 20 years later, Dallas Mavericks owner Marc Cuban is still talking about how his team allegedly got cheated by the refs in the 2006 NBA Finals. Down 2-0 in the series, Miami would find their magic sauce, reel off four straight wins, and hoist their first-ever Larry O'Brien trophy.

The series took a turn in Game 3, in which Dwyane Wade took 18 free throws compared to the entire Mavericks roster's 26.

And Cuban apparently hasn't forgotten about it to this day, claiming referees were not-so-subtly favoring the Heat on foul calls.

"[It] was the worst because I thought we got cheated. I still to this day think we got cheated," Cuban recently said when reminded about the heartbreaking Finals loss.

In a pivotal Game 5, Wade would attempt 25 free throws, the same amount as the entire Mavs roster, leading Miami to a third-straight win and a 3-2 series lead. Miami would go on to finish things off in Game 6 for its first title.

King James

Oh yeah — this one did it.

After LeBron James revealed live on ESPN that he was leaving his hometown to take his talents to South Beach, the team went from being disliked to downright despised in the eyes of many.

LeBron choosing Miami over a return to Cleveland was one thing, but some forget he was also considering a move to the Bulls and Knicks at the time. James's decision royally ticked off fans in major cities across the U.S., and a decade-and-a-half later, traces of the animosity linger.

Also forgotten? Chris Bosh left Toronto for Miami in the same two-week span, souring Canucks on the Heat as well.

It's truly the Miami Heat against the world from this point on.

"Built Not Bought"

Among other controversies in the early-"Heatles" era was the team's squabble with the Indiana Pacers, a middle-America team that prided itself on being the antithesis of the Heat. While Miami was a roster comprising players it had brought together via free agency and trades, the Pacers campaigned on a "Built Not Bought" mantra.

Until Miami could sign more than one good player in free agency, America loved it when franchises forged superstar-studded rosters.

It was fine when the New York Yankees spent tens of millions of dollars more than any other team in Major League Baseball. They should go get Ken Griffey Jr., too.

When the Dallas Cowboys were unstoppable and traded for Deion Sanders, that's cool. America's Team.

And when the Lakers paired Shaquille O'Neal with Kobe Bryant, then continued to get stacked by securing future Hall-of-Fame players Karl Malone and Gary Payton, that's great.

But once the Heat started building their dream roster, critics pounced, and the team faced potential tightening of NBA salary cap rules.

Miami Ends Boston

Some of the most vivid memories of the Heat's "Big 3" teams are that of Miami crushing the hopes and dreams of the city of Boston. Those Heat teams extinguished the Celtics' postseason multiple times, breaking up the Beantown's own "Big 3" in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce.

Boston never forgot it, and they're still plenty mad.

As evidenced once again by their coverage of the Lillard-to-Miami story, Boston media is not a big fan of the Miami Heat.

Jimmy Incoming

Damian Lillard's plan to plow his way out of Portland to Miami is déjà vu all over again, as Jimmy Butler was in a similar position when he made his way to the Heat back in 2019, albeit in a different manner.

Back then, Butler shut down his free agency tour before it started, opting to work with the Philadelphia 76ers on a sign-and-trade deal that enabled the Heat to lock up his services.

Not many folks envisioned the Heat being able to land Jimmy Butler. The team had few assets to trade and not much cap space. But in today's NBA, if a star wants to play for one team and one team only, it tends to work itself out.

And more often than not, the team working it out is the Miami Heat.

Lillard Wants Miami

Fast forward to the present day, and the Heat have done it again. On the heels of their improbable NBA Finals run, the Heat are on the verge of landing another star, creating a new "Big 3" era that would consist of Bam Adebayo, Butler, and Lillard, which would be a dream center-forward-guard fit.

It's happening again, and heads are exploding at the thought of dealing with another stretch of Miami Heat dominance. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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