A few Miami Heat players dropped by this past weekend at the Miami Springs Community Center. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. No LeBron, D-Wade or Chris Bosh in this group.
What we had here was perhaps something nearly as entertaining and extremely inspirational as the Springs Community Center served as the host site for the Miami Heat Wheels Invitational Basketball Tournament.
The wheels we speak of are wheelchairs as every member of teams coming from as far away as New York and Philadelphia were part of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Yes, folks, this is an actual league with a tie-in to the NBA with playoffs every April and league champions decided.
Whether these wheelchair-bound players had both, one or no legs, it didn’t matter. They put on a display of basketball that left everyone who attended marveling at their skill levels.
Who won? Who cares. They all won as the tournament showed off not only NWBA teams (Philadelphia Magee 76ers, Tampa Bay Strong Dogs, Orlando Magic Wheels, New York Rollin’ Knicks) but many of the talented Division II teams such as the Heat and Sunrise Suns from Broward County. These players obviously were dealt some kind of lousy hand in life, whatever the circumstances were that landed them in a wheelchair, but they haven’t let their disability slow them down. Not one bit.
“It’s something I really enjoy and get so much fulfillment out of,” said Miami Heat Wheels head coach Parnes Cartwright, now in his third year of coaching the team. “We take for granted when we can stand up under a basket and shoot a basketball or move around with two healthy legs and then you watch what these people can do. It just makes you shake your head in amazement.”
Cartwright was indeed a player himself coming out of the Pelham Fritz Hoops League on Long Island, N.Y., over a decade ago before moving down to South Florida. One day a few years back, his wife, Elizabeth Cox, who works with Lucy Binhack, who runs the Miami-Dade County Disabilities Services, approached him.
“My wife told me they were looking for a coach to handle a wheelchair team and I was fascinated by the idea,” said Cartwright. “We practice one day a week for a couple of hours and play in tournaments once or twice a month.”
Cartwright said that his Heat team is one of 90 Division II teams “that compete more recreationally than anything” and that the professional league consists of 25 teams, including Philly, New York, Tampa Bay and Orlando from this past weekend.
To watch these guys (and gals, as there was one female player we spotted) fly up and down the court left one amazed. The rules are not a lot different than a regulation NCAA college basketball game. There are two 20-minute halves and a shot clock that is actually 5 seconds less (30) than the 35 seconds college players have.
When players take the ball, they are allowed to hit the wheels up to two times with their hands before having to put the ball on the ground or traveling is called.
Watching New York take on Orlando, from a scoring standpoint, was not much different than a college game as the Magic Wheels prevailed 74-71 in overtime.