It was July 8, 2010.
A day that marked one of the most important days in NBA history. No games were played that day, yet what transpired on helped reshape the history of the league as we know it. A moment that rocked the basketball world as the game’s best player uttered these iconic words:
“I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”
Seven words. That’s all it took for LeBron James to change the complexion of the NBA in terms of player empowerment.
Seven words. That’s all it took for LeBron James together with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to turn a franchise around. Sure, the Heat had already won a title in 2006 but the Heatles era catapulted them to a different stratosphere.
For four glorious years this Heat franchise, collected two championships and four straight trips to the Finals, constantly knocking at the door of all-time greatness. And they became a franchise that was enamored by talent and firepower. A franchise not only celebrated for its obvious success, but also for creating a generation of super teams.
From 2010 to 2014, when we thought of the Miami Heat, we thought of talent, of bright lights, and of superstar status.
So, when the Heatles era finally ended, it felt different for Miami. Gone were the bright lights. Gone were the public disdain from basketball fans that hated the idea of super teams.
Today a casual hoops fan talks with your titos about he Heat would probably have them say, “Miami? Hindi na naman sila malakas.”
On paper, you can argue that this has been the case ever since LeBron left in 2014. After all, they only made the playoffs twice, in 2016 and in 2018, before this year. That is why when the Heat shockingly made quick work of the best team in the regular season, Milwaukee Bucks, in the second round the 2020 playoffs, many were in shock and awe.
But the truth is, people should have seen this coming. Because what happened was not simply an upset.
Rather, it was a product of a staple brand of play that the Heat has been employing for years. It was the culmination of a team culture that Jimmy Butler himself has preached all season ever since joining Miami in the offseason – the #HeatCulture.
But what is it about anyway?
The idea is simple. Build a team culture wherein players together with the coaches work their butts off to the limit every single day, in practice and in games, in order for them to reach their ultimate goal – to win the championship.
While it is not wrong to say that the idea of #HeatCulture is just as what any other team strives for, what separates them is how they execute it. One prime example of this is the strict and rigorous conditioning drills that the team conducts at the beginning of every season.
How strict? Just ask James Johnson.
The Heat just announced that "James Johnson will miss the beginning of camp because he fell short of our conditioning requirements. Once he fulfills and maintains those requirements, he will rejoin the team."
— Anthony Chiang (@Anthony_Chiang) October 1, 2019
Another great example is that time when the Miami Heat, led by a group of scrappy guys in Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, took the attention of the NBA world by finishing the 2017 season with a record of 41-41 despite an 11-30 record halfway through the season.
While the Heat hasn’t had any playoff success in the past few years, the standard of play was already there for them. All they needed was the right personnel that would not only fit in in their culture but would also be capable enough to get them over the hump.
That is why it is no coincidence that this year’s Heat team has been great in the playoffs. They have a group of players that fit their style of play and are willing to commit to the culture of the team.
The Heat’s primary weapon has always been their defense. Pat Riley loves to have guys that can play on both sides of the floor. But more importantly, players that are willing to play both sides of the floor with constant effort and commitment to their craft. After all, this is the perfect way to embody what their culture is all about.
Guys like Dragic, Jae Crowder, and Andre Iguodala who are veteran glue guys with playoffs experience have been big for them. Even the young bucks in Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Kendrick Nunn have all contributed mightily in their playoff run.
Herro, in particular, has been exceptional during their second-round series against Milwaukee. There were many times during the series wherein the Bucks would go on a furious rally to get back in the game and it was Herro who would answer with a big three. And to think that he’s only just a rookie made it even more impressive.
The biggest drivers of success for Miami, however, have been their own version of “Big Three” for this season – Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra.
Bam Adebayo has been nothing short of sensational for Miami all season. Breaking out as an All-Star, Adebayo has become the team’s most important player. While Butler is definitely the team’s best player, Bam has been the most valuable. Think Draymond Green for the Warriors. That’s how valuable Adebayo is for this team.
He is the heart and soul of the team in defense. And his NBA second-team All-Defense is a testament to that. What made Bam so special in defense is his ability to read and react in situations. He is quick in his feet and is super smart on using length and motor in challenging shots and defending the rim.
On offense, he is also a vital cog for the Heat which loves to run a lot of handoff actions whenever the screener rolls to the basket. And Bam is such an effective screener that running a handoff play with him will almost assure an easy bucket. They also love to run a high post action with Bam and he has really improved a mile in his passing abilities, especially the bounce pass for backdoor cuts, which gave another dimension not only to his game but for the team overall.
Jimmy Butler, on the other hand, has been perfect as THE GUY for Miami. Over the past few years, the Heat have been riding the remaining playing years of Miami legend, Dwyane Wade. While the Flash remained a great player up to his last season as a pro, Miami needed someone that could replicate what Wade does for them this season. In particular, to create shots and to close out games.
And Butler, to his credit, has been living up to his Jimmy “G Buckers” moniker with his stellar play, especially in the playoffs. Not only is he making big shots after big shots for the Heat, but he has also become a true leader for this relatively young squad contrary to popular belief about him as a leader.
His personality also fits the bill for this Heat team. No nonsense demeanor, puts in all the work in the gym, and especially in games, and is not afraid of the moment. And there is a time when every all-star that catapults his way to another level of greatness, it was this playoff run for Butler. He was just that good especially in their series against the Bucks.
And boy, was it a treat for everyone.
Of course, none of the Heat’s culture and success would be possible without their leader on the sidelines in Erik Spoelstra. Spoelstra has been Miami’s head coach since 2008 and is already a two-time world champion. But because it came through the services of the Heatles Big three, he never really received the credit he truly deserves.
Simply put, Erik is one of, if not, the best coaches in the NBA today. His philosophy on team defense, ball movement, and player movement has been one of the more under the radar facets of his genius. He is also excellent in treating his players equally regardless if it is their superstar or a bench warmer.
One of the best defensive elements that the Heat have been using in this season and the playoffs is their stunt defense. This defensive philosophy is basically used to help prevent or delay a penetration. If a player on the opposing team is able to beat his man to drive in the lane, the help defense on the strong side will stunt to delay the penetration allowing the primary defender to recover while also getting back on the designated shooter on kick out situations.
This scheme has been rather effective against the soon to be two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Because the Heat is employing a swarming defense on Giannis to prevent easy buckets under the rim, using the stunt action helped them also neutralize the shooters of the Bucks and made Giannis make tough jumpers that is not within his offensive skillset.
The 2020 NBA playoffs has been a revelation for the Heat. And now, we are finally seeing what the #HeatCulture is all about as they enter their first East Finals in six years. But frankly, it has always been there even during their glorious Heatles year. Because that’s what Heat basketball is all about. No matter what, they do it for the culture.