As 2022-2023 marks the Miami Heat’s 35th season, the Sun Sentinel presents a series of “5 in 35” reflections from staff writer Ira Winderman, covering all 3 1/2 decades of the franchise.
After opening the series with a look at the five greatest games in team history, five franchise changing momentsteams biggest celebrity fans, the five greatest persons for many years, five famous Heat Lifers and a rivalry that defined the franchisewe started a position-by-position analysis with top five defenders, the point guards and small forwards since the franchise’s inception in 1988, moving to power forward today.
Of the positions dedicated to this stage, this is perhaps the most difficult debate for the first place.
1. Chris Bosh. The theme at the top of each of those positional lists was the Big Three era, which only makes sense given the four Finals trips and NBA championships in 2012 and ’13.
And yet, an argument can be made that Bosch also deserves a spot on the list of the best central heating systems of all time for its willingness to do whatever it takes.
Still, while you can never go wrong with a Hall of Famer at the top of any positional list, there’s also something to be said for persistence, which is why it almost has to be 1A when it comes to . . .
2. Udonis Haslem. Yes, the past few seasons have mostly been a tutorial for the team’s all-time rebounding leader, but reaching 20 seasons with the same franchise shows just how much a player means to that franchise.
At times, it feels like Haslem has been around for all three-plus decades of the franchise. Yes, he’s been around since 2003, the captain going from a championship contender alongside Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to a beacon for the team’s next generation.
Mr. 305 is on any — and every — Heat all-time list.
3. PJ Brown. Was there ever a more quintessential moment from power forward Pat Riley — with all due respect to the Lakers’ Kurt Rambis effort against the Celtics — than in 1997, when Brown sent Charlie Ward into the stands in what would become the Heat’s flashpoint – The Knicks rivalry?
Alonzo Mourning didn’t have a better bodyguard at the forward position, including Larry Johnson in Charlotte.
An argument could be made that Brown was Haslem before Haslem was Haslem.
4. Grant Long. It could be argued that even with the arrival of Ronnie Seikaly in the first round of 1988 as the franchise’s first draft pick, and with several big-name veterans added in that expansion draft (Pearl Washington, Pat Cummings, Scott Hastings), it was Long who remained the primary face of the franchise.
Setting the tone for those who followed, like Brown and Haslem, Long’s relentless hustle epitomized what initially sold South Florida on the team.
5. Anthony Mason. The tenure only lasted the 2000-01 season, but what a season it was as Mason stepped into the power rotation after Mourning was sidelined with a kidney ailment.
Considered a throwaway in the trade that led to Eddie Jones, Mason became a 2001 All-Star as part of an unlikely lineup that led to a 50-win season.
From there, he earned a free-agent deal with the Bucks, but still deserves a spot on this list, even with the cases that can be made for PJ Tucker, Jae Crowder, Sean Marion, Kurt Thomas, James Johnson, Luol Deng, John Sally and Terry Davis, among others.
Mason, who helped the Knicks reach the NBA Finals in 1994, died at the age of 48 in 2015 after battling heart problems. While Mason made an immediate impact on the Heat, he is most remembered for his physical, bruising play that was epitomized by then-coach Riley Nix.
Next: We wrap up our positional evaluations with the best centers over the years as the franchise turns 35.