Talk of the Heat, and the conversation almost universally centers around such players as Dwyane Wade, Alonzo Mourning, or Shaquille O’Neal; or if not them, then Michael Beasley, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Daequan Cook or some other current member of the team.
Sometimes you’ll even hear talk of the best point guard in Heat history, Tim Hardaway. Three names you’ll rarely hear mentioned are Rony Seikaly, Glen Rice, and Steve Smith. This is a real shame, as these three are Heat legends, and are the cornerstones that built the franchise to legitimacy.
The Miami Heat organization is a young one, coming into existence in 1988 as an expansion franchise of the NBA along with the Charlotte Hornets that year.
While they don’t have the storied history of some of the other teams in the association such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, or New York Knicks, they have had relative success in their 21 years in the NBA.
In those 21 seasons they’ve managed to make the playoffs 13 times, captured seven division titles, and with the help of Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Jason Williams, Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, James Posey, Jason Kapono, and others, along with the stellar play of Udonis Haslem and the 2006 Finals MVP and 2008-2009 scoring champion, Dwyane Wade, were able to bring home the NBA Championship in 2006.
Most would also agree that if they can retain Dwyane Wade, or D-Wade as he’s known to most of his fans, the Miami Heat will be a team to be reckoned with for years to come, and will likely be winning even more of those precious titles if they can add some more talent to their roster in the upcoming free-agent bonanza next year; D-Wade is just that good.
Many of the fans of the Heat you’ll talk to will easily talk for days about the talent of D-Wade and many of his current teammates as well. A good many of them could regale you with all of the pertinent information you would ever want on such past Heat players as Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Hardaway, and even Lamar Odom.
The Miami Heat themselves compiled a list of the Top 25 Heat Players of All Time for their 20th Anniversary celebration in 2008, and all of those players were obviously among them.
Some players on that list, however, aren’t likely as well-known to the average Heat fan as say...’Zo or Shaq, and this is the purpose of this article; to highlight the careers of three oft-forgotten Miami Heat legends.
The first of these three is the easiest to forget, for he played for the Heat long before many of the current crop of young fans of the Heat and Dwyane Wade were even watching basketball.
Some of them might even have been in diapers when Rony Seikaly, the first player taken by the Miami franchise was lacing up his sneakers to take to the hardwood for the erstwhile Heat team.
Not even born in the United States, Seikaly is a naturalized American citizen who called Beirut, Lebanon his home for the first nine years of his life. His family then moved to Greece, where he attended an American high school in Athens called the American Community School.
His talent for basketball was quickly recognized there, as he joined the Euroleague. His nationality prevented him from playing in the Greek Championships, however, and colleges from the states came calling.
Rony decided Syracuse University was the place he’d call home for the next four years, and headed to upstate New York. In his four years playing for the Orangemen, he was basically one of the most dominating centers in college basketball history, and has had his jersey retired by Syracuse and raised to the rafters in the Carrier Dome.
He left school for the NBA as the Orangemen’s all-time leading rebounder, second in blocked shots, and fourth in scoring and led them to the 1987 NCAA Championship while averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds in the tournament.
He also played for the United States Basketball Team at the 1986 World Championships, capturing a Gold Medal along with his teammates that year.
Once in the NBA he quickly proved his college career was no fluke. During his six years with the Miami heat he averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds, was among the NBA’s top seven rebounders for five straight seasons, named the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 1990, and set numerous Heat records, including most blocks in a game (eight), most rebounds in a game (34), which still stands, and most double doubles.
Known as “The Spin Doctor” to his many Heat fans because of his fabulous low-post spin moves, Seikaly sadly was traded away in 1994 to the Golden State Warriors, playing for them for two and a half seasons before moving on to the Orlando Magic and eventually the New Jersey Nets before retiring in 2000 and going on to play for FC Barcelona of the Spanish League.
While he was with Miami, though, there were oh so many nights when the “cornerstone” upon which the Miami Heat franchise had been built would thrill his fans with his soft touch and deft moves.
Some would try and denigrate him, saying he wasn’t the equal of other centers like Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, as if that were some sort of insult (very few centers in the history of the NBA were the equal of those two), but Rony Seikaly held his own even with them most times, and would make other centers look the fool all too often.
To me, there is no question Rony Seikaly is a Miami Heat Legend, and should always be remembered by the Miami faithful as such. He wasn’t as fierce as ‘Zo, or as dominating as Shaq, but in his own way he was just as exciting at times.
Along with Glen Rice and Steve Smith, Rony Seikaly helped propel Miami to legitimacy, and is one of the reasons the franchise was able to entice Pat Riley to bring his talents to South Beach.
The second piece added to Miami that garnered those results of bringing “Riles”, as he’s known to fans, to the Heat franchise, was a player he would immediately trade away to acquire his ‘franchise’ center in Alonzo Mourning.
That piece was none other than Glenn Rice, who joined the Heat team a year after Rony Seikaly in 1989. Teaming with Seikaly, Grant Long, and Rory Sparrow, Rice formed a team in those early years that was fun to watch, even if they didn’t win very often.
That would soon change though, as they added Bimbo Coles to the roster in 1990, and eventually Steve Smith. Along with Smith and Seikaly, the Heat had their first legitimate trio of star players.
Glen, who had been a star for the Michigan Wolverines in college, capturing an NCAA Championship in 1989 and becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,442 points, also scored an NCAA-record 184 points during that 1989 tournament, a record that still stands, and was voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Selected No. 4 overall in the 1989 NBA Draft by the Heat, who were in dire need of some offensive firepower, Rice only averaged 13.6 points per game his first year. However, the final five seasons he played with heat he averaged better than 20.0 PPG. His scoring over those five seasons was so awesome to behold at times he earned his own chant.
As the Miami faithful would watch him burn up the opposition they would start to ask the question, “How do we like our Rice?” with a resounding shouted answer of “Hot!”
His career with the Heat would pretty much end on that note, as he scored a career-high 56 points on April 15, 1995 in a nationally televised game against the Orlando Magic and Shaquille O’Neal. In that game he hit 20 of 27 shots, including 7 of 8 from beyond the arc. His 56 points were the most scored by a player that season, and would cement his place in Heat lore and legend.
When Pat Riley decided to trade the ever-popular Rice to the Charlotte Hornets for the dominant center he craved to build a franchise, I, along with many Heat fans, while excited about getting ‘Zo, was devastated to be losing Glen Rice.
He had been the center of many a sports fantasy surrounding the Heat, lighting it up from outside, torching the opposition with his pinpoint accuracy, and would be sorely missed.
While he went on to a stellar career with the Hornets as well (he’s still the Hornets all-time leader in scoring average with 23.5 PPG), he will forever remain a legendary Heat player in my view.
He was the offensive punch to those early Heat teams that made them feared even if they didn’t always win, and when they began to win, with the help of the third player I’ll talk about, he was the main focus of the opposing coaches game-planning.
In simple enough language, Glen Rice was what heated the Miami franchise up in those early days.
While Glen was the offensive threat for the Heat in those days of infancy for the franchise, in 1991 he was joined by a player many at first believed would be the next Magic Johnson.
Steve Smith, better known for his five year stint with the Atlanta Hawks, only played three seasons with the Miami Heat (unless you count the 13 games he played for the Heat in 2005, which I won’t for this article).
He never truly lived up to the hype that had surrounded him coming out of Michigan State, where he’d helped the Spartans to the Big Ten Championship and a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament in 1990.
While with Michigan State he had amassed some pretty impressive records, becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer (surpassing Magic Johnson who he would be compared to), ranking fourth on the school’s all-time assists list (453), and fifth in rebounds (704), showing a versatility that naturally would make people want to compare him to such a great legend from the same school who played the same position.
Regardless of whether he lived up to the hype, he was truly a spectacular player to watch when he was healthy, and at times could give credence to those comparisons as he would oft-times, while with the Heat, do things that only Magic Johnson and a few others had ever done before.
In his three seasons with the Heat his numbers weren’t stellar, but in his final year with them he gave rise to the belief that, had he stayed with Miami, he might have become all we’d dreamed as he averaged 17.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 5.1 APG.
To me, at least, that final year cemented him as a legend for the Heat, for there were so many special moments for me personally watching him play that season that I can never look at him as anything other than a Miami Heat player.
He, along with Rice and Seikaly, were the players who made my basketball dreams blossom in those early days of my newly adopted team.
To me, at least, they’re all three legends for the Heat.
So, to all you newbie Miami Heat fans, here’s a request. While it’s understandable you’ll forever have a special place in your heart for ‘Zo, the warrior prince who fiercely helped our franchise to its (first among many) 2006 title, and while you’ll obviously marvel at the wondrous play of D-Wade and others, and talk fondly of Shaq, please spend a moment to reflect on the other legends for the Heat, including the three I’ve highlighted here. They deserve your respect.