Miami Heat's Top 5 Teams of All Time
Obviously no team tops the 2005-06 squad that brought the Miami Heat their first championship after 18 years in the league. But after them the competition is tight.
The franchise didn't really take off until Pat Riley signed on as president and head coach in 1995, and in the 15 years since then, Miami has 11 postseason berths and 7 division titles.
During that stretch there have been a number of outstanding teams, to narrow the list down to only five required consideration of several factors.
Regular season record is important, but postseason success is heavily weighed into the equation. Teams that went further into the playoffs were considered over those that made early exits.
Expectations entering the season factor in as well; teams that over-performed got the nod over rosters that may have been better on paper, but played below their skill level.
The last part of the equation is made up by the character of the roster. Were these players beloved? Did they have that something special that tends to just ignite a home crowd? There's no exact word to explain it, but let's call it a fan favorite bonus.
With all that said, enjoy the slide show.
In 1995, Miami Heat basketball changed forever. Pat Riley left the New York Knicks and came to Miami as the team's president, general manager, and head coach.
His hand has touched everything the franchise has done since, and there's no one who's had a greater individual effect on the organization than Riley.
His first order of action was to use Glen Rice as the centerpiece in a trade to acquire Alonzo Mourning from the Charlotte Hornets.
By the trade deadline, Riley would add Tim Hardaway to the mix and start a six-year playoff run that included four division titles.
Hardaway and Mourning became the best scoring duo in franchise history and turned the Heat from a lottery loser into a postseason regular.
In the 1995-96 season Miami went 42-40 with a core of Mourning, Hardaway, Chris Gatling, Billy Owens, Rex Chapman, and Bimbo Coles.
They earned the eight seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, but lost 3-0 to Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls in the first round. The 72-10 Bulls went on to win a championship.
Though the next few Heat seasons would end with better records and division championships, 95-96 was the main building block for an almost decade-long run of success.
Riley, Mourning, and Hardaway changed the momentum of the franchise and instilled a defensive, high effort, winning mentality that has become a staple of the Miami Heat.
This season simply could not be excluded from the list.
Like the 95-96 season, 03-04 was another franchise-altering moment. With the fifth pick in the Draft, Miami selected Dwyane Wade out of Marquette and the rest is history.
With a core of Wade, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Eddie Jones, Brian Grant, Rafer Alston, Udonis Haslem, and Rasual Butler, the Heat finished the season at 42-40 and were seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
The team began the year at 0-7 and was widely expected to be amongst the worst in the league, but a surprising push from mid-season onward saw the Heat slowly climb the standings.
The overachievers played with great energy and reignited the South Florida fan base that had been somewhat comatose since the loss of Alonzo Mourning to kidney disease at the start of the millennium.
In the postseason, Miami defeated a heavily favored New Orleans Hornets team in the opening round and witnessed Wade begin his rise to stardom.
Wade hit a game winner over Hornets All-Defensive point guard Baron Davis in the first game of the seven-game series. He went on to average over 24 ppg in the playoffs and turn heads around the league.
Miami would lose in 6 games to the Indiana Pacers the next round, but the 03-04 team will go down as one of the most fun to watch in franchise history.
These guys got the crowds back into American Airlines Arena and set the stage for the 2006 Title run.
Wade's 2004 postseason campaign was so impressive, Shaquille O'Neal added the Miami Heat to the short list of teams he was willing to be traded to.
A bitter divorce with the L.A. Lakers would later see him shipped to Miami in exchange for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant.
Heat fans were sad to see so many pieces of their core let go, but it was easy to understand why the franchise made the move. Shaq was greeted by tens of thousands of fans upon his welcome ceremony outside the AAA.
He promised a championship to the city amid roaring cheers, and would deliver on that promise a year later.
Shaq, Udonis Haslem, Eddie Jones, Wade, and Damon Jones would round out a starting line-up that went 59-23 and finished first in the Eastern Conference.
Wade earned his first All-Star berth, and Shaq dominated the league much like he had for over a decade.
The Heat went 8-0 through the first two rounds of the playoffs before being derailed by the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In game five, Wade went down with a freak midsection injury that had him out of the lineup for game six and severely limited him for game seven.
Without their best player, Miami wasn't able to hang on for their first NBA Finals appearance, but it was the start of something special.
Shaq took Wade under his wing, showed him the ropes, and helped turn the budding star into one of the best players on the planet. The Heat went from borderline relevant to Conference favorites as a result.
In the second year of the Riley, Mourning, and Hardaway era, the Heat added P.J. Brown, Dan Majerle, Jamal Mashburn, and Voshon Lenard, finishing the regular season with a franchise-best 61-21 record.
Miami won their first division title and if not for another run-in with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, probably would have earned their first NBA Finals berth.
With Thunder Dan and Timmy hitting threes from all over the court, and Mourning and Brown providing forceful defense and leadership, the 96-97 squad became known as one of the most rough-nosed, resilient teams to ever take the court for Miami.
These guys were gritty, they were tough, and they loved contact. The Heat ranked as the top defensive team in the league and Mourning won the Defender of the Year award.
Miami was also able to stick one to Riley's former team in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.
After trailing 3-1 to the New York Knicks, the Heat rallied back to win the series in seven games and head to the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
The Heat-Knicks series will forever be remembered for the game five brawl that started when Charlie Ward body-slammed P.J. Brown.
Both benches cleared and several suspensions were handed down by the league as a result. It would start one of the best rivalries in sports over the next few years.
After beating the Knicks, the Heat lost 4-1 in the Conference Finals to the Bulls, their second consecutive postseason loss to the team.
Jordan led his team to another championship that year, but a gritty Miami team showed some serious fight after going down 3-0 in the series.
Mourning guaranteed a game four victory, and delivered. On another year, that Heat team might have been enough to win a championship.
After the team's disappointing loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals, Pat Riley decided the roster that had won 59 games in 04-05 wasn't good enough to compete for a championship.
He wasn't kidding around, either.
Riley orchestrated a 5-team, 13 player trade that was the largest in NBA history. Gone were names like Eddie Jones, Damon Jones, and Rasual Butler; replaced by Antoine Walker and Jason Williams.
After the trade, Riley added Gary Payton, James Posey, Jason Kapono, and later Alonzo Mourning.
The roster from the year before was almost completely overhauled, but the results were mixed. The Heat went 52-30 in the regular season, finishing second in the Eastern Conference.
Though their record was solid, Miami had struggled all season against division leaders, winning just two of those contests in the regular season.
Media and fans from around the league labeled the franchise as overrated because of their poor showing against the NBA's elite, but a determined Heat team silenced all doubters on their way toward becoming the 2006 World Champions.
Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning had been waiting a combined 33 seasons for that moment, and it showed every minute of the playoffs. There are few players whose hunger for a ring elevated their games more than the duo.
Mourning made a ton of key defensive plays throughout the postseason and his passion and emotion became the embodiment of the roster as a whole.
Gary didn't provide as much, but when it was all on the line he wasn't afraid to step up.
In game 3 of the NBA Finals, with the Heat down 0-2 in the series, Payton lined up for a jump shot with 9 seconds remaining and the game tied at 95. The moment was supposed to belong to Dwyane Wade, but with Dallas throwing everything they had at him, Wade dished the ball off to the Glove.
Payton hadn't attempted a single shot in the contest to that point. He nailed the bucket for a swish as ice pumped through his veins and the Heat went on to win 98-96. They'd win the next three games to take the title.
That season, Miami would defeat the Detroit Pistons in 6 games to reach the Finals. Wade would put together one of the most impressive postseason runs in NBA history.
Shaq witnessed the final year of his prime. Pat Riley would return to the bench midway through the season and solidify his position as one of the all-time great coaches.
The Miami Heat would reach the pinnacle of their sport and log their name in the history books.
It was the first and only NBA Finals appearance in Heat history and cemented the 2005-2006 team as the greatest in franchise history.