With 2022-23 marking the Miami Heat’s 35th season, the Sun Sentinel completes a series of “5 at 35″ reflections from staff writer Ira Winderman, who has covered the entirety of the franchise’s 3 1/2 decades.
After opening the series with a look at the five greatest games in the team’s history, five franchise-altering moments, the team’s biggest celebrity fans, five of the biggest personalities over the years, five notable Heat Lifers and rivalries that have defined the franchise, we continued with our position-by-position breakdowns of the top five shooting guards, point guards, small forwards, power forwards, centers and sixth men since the franchise’s 1988 inception.
We conclude with our perspective on the Heat’s all-time teams.
Throughout this series, the goal was to provide context that there was Miami Heat before the 1995 arrival of Pat Riley, the 2010 pairing of the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and that this is a franchise that continues to evolve, as we plan to meet back in 2027 to reflect on the Heat at 40.
— Center: Alonzo Mourning. It could be argued that if Jerry West is the NBA logo, then Alonzo Mourning stands as the enduring face of the Heat, from scowling shot blocker to current front-office presence. Zo arrived to slay, but he came to stay.
— Power forward: Chris Bosh. The tenure proved too fleeting, snuffed out by career-threatening blood clots. But no player in the Heat’s 35 years possessed such a combination of power and finesse, something Bam Adebayo now attempts to emulate.
— Small forward: LeBron James. The only player in franchise history to be named NBA Most Valuable Player (in 2012, ‘13). A supernova who represented the ultimate high (arrival) and low (departure) in the franchise’s history.
— Shooting guard: Dwyane Wade. The single most important player in Heat history, and arguably in South Florida sports history, over these past 35 years (with apologies to Dan Marino). He changed everything upon his arrival.
— Point guard: Tim Hardaway. Proved to be almost irreplaceable at his position after his departure, with more than a decade passing before Goran Dragic and, now, Kyle Lowry, provided anything similar in terms of talent at point guard.
— Center: Shaquille O’Neal. The most talented center in the franchise’s 35 seasons, a force of nature whose infectious personality elevated the franchise from those playoff failures against the Knicks. Another example of brief Heat tenure but enduring legacy.
— Power forward: Udonis Haslem. Sometimes longevity counts for plenty. Others have possessed more talent at the position, but none have taken such root in the franchise and in the community. Yes, that matters. And it’s not as if he isn’t also the Heat’s all-time rebounding leader.
— Small forward: Jimmy Butler. In his three seasons with the team, Butler has led the Heat to the 2020 NBA Finals and within one shot of the 2022 NBA Finals. There were questions about whether there would be another superstar in the Heat’s orbit after the Big Three. Those questions have already been answered.
— Shooting guard: Eddie Jones. During the leanest of years there was the professionalism of a player who served as leader on the court and in the locker room, a player who embodied much of the Heat Lifer motto that came later.
— Point guard: Goran Dragic. The timing was off from the beginning, when Dragic stepped in just as Chris Bosh was forced to step aside. But through it all, through Dwyane Wade coming and going, Dragic kept it afloat. And he made it fun, as well.
— Center: Bam Adebayo. After years of empty calories in the middle, including the Hassan Whiteside experience, Adebayo arrived as an anchor of selflessness to help generate franchise renewal. Never had the Heat had a center as defensively versatile.
— Power forward: P.J. Brown. The franchise has come to be defined by lunch-pail types at the position, from Grant Long to Udonis Haslem. Like those two, Brown always had his teammates’ backs.
— Small forward: Glen Rice. Before 3-point shooting became the thing in the NBA, Rice was tantalizing with the long ball, his value ultimately allowing the Heat to utilize him in the trade for Alonzo Mourning.
— Shooting guard: Steve Smith. To a degree, the No. 5 pick in the 1991 draft was a player ahead of his time, a playmaker who, at 6-8, was as much shooting guard and small forward as point guard. At times, when playing alongside Brian Shaw it was difficult to delineate the positional designation. The problem was the Heat did not truly recognize what they had until he was gone, squandered in the 1994 trade for Kevin Willis. He got lost in our positional “5 and 35″ ratings, but deserves All-Heat consideration here.
— Point guard: Sherman Douglas. At a time charisma was desperately needed, Douglas arrived at the franchise’s outset to provide backcourt stability as one of the franchise’s first clutch scorers. He wasn’t ranked this high on our positional list at point guard, but his overall impact moves him in this type of ranking.