Look Me In My Face, Dawg: Be Grateful and Trust Miami HEAT Culture

Commentary5 years ago7 min readGreg Sylvander

Be grateful.

Be grateful that in 1995, Micky Arison took control of the franchise his father helped bring to Miami.

Be grateful that instead of settling for the status quo and offering Bob Huggins a contract to coach the HEAT in 1995, Micky swung for the fences. And hit a home run with Patrick James Riley.

Be grateful that from day one, Pat Riley spoke of championship parades down Biscayne Blvd—not patience with young players and hope trafficking lottery odds.

Be grateful Micky wouldn’t let pride and ego get in the way of turning the franchise over to the care of Riles. Micky was thinking big before even the most grandiose HEAT fan could.

Be grateful that despite HEAT fans like myself, who literally shed tears when Glen Rice was traded, Riley stuck to his vision and acquired Alonzo Mourning as the first building block. That move is where “In Riley We Trust” took its first steps.


Be grateful that instead of using the loss of 1996 free-agent prize Juwan Howard as an excuse to caution the fan base against developing expectations, Riley re-grouped. He regrouped and resiliently built a 61 win, Eastern Conference finalist in Year 2 in Miami.

Be grateful that even when Riley was brought to his knees after three-consecutive playoff series losses to his arch rival, the New York Knicks, Micky didn’t panic and listen to the noise. He stuck by Riles. Micky understood “Trust the Process” before your current favorite process even existed.

Be grateful that despite unprecedented success in those early Riley years, he wasn’t satisfied. He had the guts to break up a perennial division champion and go all in with attempts at signing Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. And when that didn’t materialize, having a Plan B that included Eddie Jones, Brian Grant and Anthony Mason. The point is: This franchise was not going to settle.

Be grateful that just when it appeared that Riley had acquired the talent to get over the hump, and MVP candidate Alonzo Mourning was lost due to a career-threatening kidney ailment, the franchise didn’t spiral into long-term mediocrity.

Be grateful that they didn’t use the devastating loss of Zo as an excuse. Instead, they stuck to the plan—approaching every season with playoff expectations, despite the varying talent levels of each roster. They didn’t overpay the Larry Hughes’ of the world. They remained flexible. They owned tough decisions to part with HEAT legends for the greater good and long-term future of this franchise. A precedent was being set here, and we didn’t even know it.

Be grateful that while Pat Riley has final say on all basketball matters, he listens to his staff. Whether it be Randy, Andy, Chet, Chad or Erik. He listens and takes suggestions, when quite frankly, he doesn’t have to answer to pretty much anybody.

When Riley’s most trusted basketball minds pounded their fists on the table for a tweener guard from Marquette, Riley accepted good advice. Sometimes being able to recognize and accept good advice can be as valuable as having the sense of discernment to ignore bad direction.

Don’t you think it empowers your people when drafting Dwyane Wade appeared redundant with Eddie Jones already in place? And for Riley to not ignore his group’s conscience? You’re damn right it does.

Be grateful that instead of chasing draft-pick odds year after year, Riley alternatively collected assets that were tangible to winning, as well as the future. You can do both, you know…

Be grateful that Riley doesn’t overvalue his assets to a fault, like a certain GM in Boston tends to do. Knowing when the time is right to cash in for a real chance at a championship—understanding “time and score”—is the difference between the “what ifs” of the Wade, Odom, Butler core and the 2006 NBA Championship banner hanging in AmericanAirlines Arena.

Be grateful that when the wheels fell off of that 06′ championship core, the organization didn’t rest on its laurels for a decade basking in past glory. Instead, they planned with unparalleled vision. The vision of the greatest free-agent coup in the history of professional sports.

Be grateful that when the time came to execute that vision, Riley actually pulled it off—even if it was with a ton of help from the player he drafted in ’03.

Be grateful that when the entire basketball world was calling for Erik Spoelstra’s job when the 2010-11 team was 9-8, Riley stuck by his guy. Firing Spo wasn’t even considered, despite the backlash.

Be grateful for what likely will go down as the four greatest years in Miami sports, with two more championships to show for it.

Be grateful that when the best player in the world went back home, despite privately being incensed and on a certain level humiliated, the organization handled the move with grace and dignity.

Be grateful they didn’t use it as an excuse to be a perennial bottom-dweller. Instead, swiftly building a team around the champions who remained.

Be grateful that, when for a second time, the franchise’s cornerstone big man was lost to a freak medical issue, the team didn’t wallow in self-pity.

Be grateful that despite how much they knew it would hurt to do it, they resisted handing out the “Kobe deal” at the expense of the long-term future of the franchise.

Be grateful they didn’t compromise future flexibility to retain aging veterans who have all fallen off a cliff upon their departure from Miami.

Be grateful that the organization has the ability to shift focus from acquiring win-now veterans (ignoring the draft in favor of seasoned professionals) to becoming one of the greatest developmental franchises in the game today. Being able to shift that focus so drastically in such short time span, that doesn’t happen everywhere.

Be grateful that instead of nurturing the loser mentality that stems from putting players in position to fail by deliberately tanking, the team refuses to wave the white flag. Ever. Instead of treating players like video game characters with mere names and player ratings, they inspire confidence by investing every resource available to help players become the best versions of themselves—and have been doing so for over 20 years.

Be grateful, no matter how this season ends, because this 2016-17 HEAT team validates so much of what the organization has built for two decades. HEAT Culture is an action program. We are seeing it in action.

Be excited and hopeful about the future, because this organization has given you absolutely zero reasons not to. #TrustTheCulture, because it has proven to be stronger than any other “process” ever has.

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