Lebron, you may think you started the migration and coined the phrase “taking one’s talents to South Beach”. I’d argue that exodus, at least in sports, started roughly two decades prior, when Pat Riley followed the lead of countless other New Yorkers and did just that, effectively beginning Heat Culture. And a couple of years before him, another ex-New Yorker, Bill Torrey, brought his track record of reasonably quick success for an NHL expansion team that he realized with the Islanders when he served as the first head of the Florida Panthers.
Whomever you think deserves credit, this week is clearly the culmination of sports talents converging on the 305 and the 954. Because starting tomorrow night, and continuing through Saturday, South Florida will host a league championship series game with global audiences watching–and envying–the beauty of a metropolitan area filled with some of the most gorgeous fans ever created giddy with the hopes of creating history.
As Sports Business Journal reported last week:
The Heat and Panthers are “four wins from making South Florida a double champion in basketball and hockey, which no city or metro area has ever experienced in the same season,” according to Greg Cote of the MIAMI HERALD. Nine times, one city or region “has celebrated like South Florida is now” with teams in both the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final. Each time, that city or region “has failed to pull off two championship parades.” When including “all of the original Big Four sports and including football and baseball,” one city or region has had multiple champions in a season 18 times. But “never in the two sports that crowns their champs simultaneously” (MIAMI HERALD, 5/31). In West Palm Beach, Tom D’Angelo wrote having both the Stanley Cup and the Larry O’Brien Trophy “on display in the same area, at the same time … is surreal.” The NBA and NHL have never had two No. 8 seeds “playing for a title in the same year … never mind from the same area.” South Florida joins Boston (three times), N.Y. (twice), Philadelphia, Chicago, Northern New Jersey and the S.F. Bay Area “as the regions to send franchises to the NBA and NHL finals in the same year.” However, only South Florida will be able to say it hosted finals games “on four consecutive nights” .
Actually, the countdown for the Heat has dropped to three, thanks to an outstanding night of outside shooting (51 points from three-point baskets; and at nearly a 50% accuracy) and brilliant lineup adjustments from Heat czar Eric Spoelstra that saw Miami end the Denver Nuggets’ home winning streak that had stretched into its fourth calendar month. They will take the floor at the Kasera Center tomorrow night with home court advantage, that dreaded non-factor (so says my colleague) of “momentum” and. even more importantly, the potential return of Tyler Herro, who has missed mosf of these playoffs after a first round hand injury.
Meanwhile, the Panthers return to their more spartan Broward County digs a bit more desperate, particularly after being blown out of Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena last night in a particularly dream-crushing fashion, as Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported:
As the Florida Panthers made their eight-seeded run to the Stanley Cup Final, the three prime factors were Sergei Bobrovsky’s goaltending, Matthew Tkachuk’s dramatic scoring and healthy special-teams play.
All three were missing in the desert again in Game 2 of the Final as Vegas routed the Panthers 7-2 Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Bobrovsky was replaced in the second period, Vegas is feasting on power plays and, while Tkachuk did score Monday, it was in a 6-1 game with no celebration.
Tkachuk’s presence was felt more by a resounding and legal check on Vegas star Jack Eichel that led to scrums, 10-minute misconduct penalties and Eichel temporarily disappearing from the game. Tkachuk then got his second misconduct penalty late in the third period to end his night.
The only good news for the Panthers after two games is the scheduled one: The Final comes to Sunrise for Game 3 on Thursday night. The Panthers will be up against history as well as Vegas when it does.
Only five teams in 53 Stanley Cup Final series have rebounded from an 0-2 deficit to win. That drops to three teams when they started 0-2 on the road like the Panthers.
But at least they’re playing hockey in June. And yes, Heat culture is offering itself beyond its core target in the hopes of making South Florida the capital of the sports universe beyond the next hundred-something hours.
In fact, for those who may be arriving early, tonight they can take in the exploits of yet another team that is overachieving, and may yet join their winter sport breathren in hosting signfiicant post-season games. As the Associated Press reported, there’s some more history potentially being written at Loan Depot Park:
Luis Arraez had three hits to raise his major league-leading batting average to .399, and the Miami Marlins beat the Kansas City Royals 9-6 on Monday night. Arraez drove in two runs for the Marlins, who erased an early four-run deficit and won their fourth straight game. Bryan De La Cruz hit his eighth homer, while Jon Berti, Nick Fortes and Joey Wendle had two hits apiece.
After going hitless in four at-bats Friday against Oakland, Arraez is 10 for 13 over the last three games.
“It’s huge,” he said of his current average. “I have worked hard for this. But this is just starting. I am not complacent. I want to accomplish more.”
No big league player has batted .400 for a season since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
t’s not as if Arraez came completely out of nowhere. He was the 2022 American League batting champion, edging the Yankees’ Aaron Judge by a scant two one-thousandths of a point to deny him the Triple Crown while playing for the Minnesota Twins. But he batted a mere .316 last year. Sure, American League batters have, at least historically, often improved when they move to the National League. But with a newly balanced schedule, and against a Royals team he feasted upon when he competed against them in the same division, Arraez is particularly advantaged. So tonight he may reach a level seldom seen in June. Plenty of good, cheap seats will be available.
And then the real fun starts. The hottest teams for the hottest fans in the hottest climate under the hottest pressure imaginable.
With the potential of parades up and down A1A, and a waterfront celebration, awaiting in success. Maybe not three, not four, not five, not six. But, certainly, there’s a chance at one or two.
The kind of celebration Lebron once experienced. But this week, like most of us, he’ll just be watching. Enviously.