A few players in Miami Heat jerseys dropped by this past weekend at the Miami Springs Community Center. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. There was 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 Miami Springs Community Center, for the second year in a row, 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 Philadelphia to the north and Puerto Rico to the south are a 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 this weekend? Who cares.
They all won as the tournament showed off not only NWBA teams (Philadelphia Magee 76ers, Tampa Bay Strong Dogs, Orlando Magic Wheels) but many of the talented Division II teams such as the Heat, Sunrise Suns and Fort Lauderdale Sharks 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.
“We’re so grateful and appreciative to the City of Miami Springs, the community and all of the local businesses for reaching out to allow us to host this event again,” said Miami Heat Wheels head coach and Executive Director Parnes Cartwright, now in his fourth year coaching the team. “It shows that they embrace everyone in society and it was obvious that they really wanted to be a part of this event.”
The event itself ran Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 9 to 2 and featured a total of eight teams playing a total of 16 games on both Court 1 and Court 2.
If comparing last year to this year can be used as a measuring stick, Cartwright and the Heat Wheels are starting to build some momentum. That’s because not only were many sponsors on board this time in the way of not only the City of Miami Springs but the local Comfort Inn & Suites, Miami-Dade County, Milam’s Market and McDonald’s, but a great turnout from the public on Saturday morning for the free event was also in order as the Community Center was jammed with people.
Also there helping out on Saturday were the “FIU Sisters.” The Students Incorporating Service to Encourage Real Success (SISTERS) were represented by President Kim Hazim, Vice President Brittany Hamilton and CSO Rep. Katia Telusma. Together the group, which dedicates itself to various community service events, manned the front table selling T-shirts and programs while welcoming everyone to the event.
“Just fantastic to see so many people out here enjoying themselves,” said Cartwright. “It’s an amazing thing to watch.”
And watch they did as Cartwright watched his Heat Wheels squad down Fort Lauderdale 65-43 on Saturday morning, Puerto Rico 59-45 on Saturday afternoon, and Philadelphia 56-41 on Sunday morning before falling to Tampa Bay, the No. 2 team in the country, 53-48 on Sunday afternoon
The Heat Wheels moved their record to 18-2 with the three wins before the Strong Dogs game and were ranked No. 8 in the league going into the weekend with 24 teams receiving an invite to the national tournament in Louisville in early April, which has Cartwright optimistic his team will get the call.
“It’s something I really enjoy and get so much fulfillment out of,” said Cartwright. “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 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.
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, Tampa Bay and Orlando from this past weekend.
To watch these players 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.
“As a former player, being around basketball is part of my DNA and I think it is with these players as well,” said Cartwright, who is long-time friends with Pelican Playhouse director Ralph Wakefield, which is where the Miami Heat Wheels/Miami Springs connection came in. “The way I see it, it’s not about their disability so much is it’s about their ability. They are some of the hardest-working athletes you will ever see.”
“It’s all about the love of the game,” said 29-year-old Dirrick Hughes, now in his 12th season playing for the Heat Wheels after graduating from Carol City High School a decade ago and who has been wheelchair-confined most of his life. “My stepdad played a lot of basketball, so I was around it all the time and then one of my teachers at Carol City introduced me to wheelchair basketball and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
If you would like to check out the team sometime, that’s not a problem. They use the Miami Springs Community Center basketball court every Saturday afternoon (2 to 4 p.m.) for a once-a-week practice. Anyone wishing to help out may
visit their Facebook page at Facebook.com/HeatWheels or contact Carwright at 917-545-5949, email address firstname.lastname@example.org.