The Heat season is over, but a lesser-known South Florida professional basketball team plays on in Davie away from the glare of TV cameras.
The Miami Midnites make far less money ($750 to $1,000 a month) than NBA players, have second jobs, typically travel by bus, and their home gym seats only 250. However, they play with big-time passion and grit because most of them are clinging to basketball dreams that got derailed somewhere along the way.
In their inaugural season, the Midnites, who are a minor-league affiliate of Israeli club Maccabi Haifa, managed to win the Florida Basketball Association title and last week took a plane to Shreveport, Louisiana, where they played in the American Basketball Association final four.
They lost in the championship series to the Shreveport-Bossier Mavericks, who are riding a 92-game win streak, but the fact the Midnites were there at all is remarkable considering their rag-tag roots.
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There’s George Gray of Liberty City, a 26-year-old Miami Northwestern High grad who failed the FCAT exam as a senior, sat out a year and worked at Walmart. He wound up playing at and graduating from Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, and had never been on an airplane before last week’s flight to Shreveport.
“I was really nervous to fly,” Gray said. “I didn’t know how to buckle the seat belt and was embarrassed to ask, so I just tucked it in and looked out the window. The whole flight my teammates were checking on me, saying, ‘G, you all right?’ I’d give them a thumbs-up. One of my goals for 2015 was to fly, so now I can cross that off my list.”
There’s Raymond Taylor, formerly known as Ray when he was a promising point guard at Plantation American Heritage High, Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University. His FIU career ended prematurely when he was declared ineligible because of NCAA rules violations related to his transfer.
“I’m more mature now, so I go by Raymond,” the 24-year-old said. “I felt like they took my life from me when I had to leave FIU. I started a sneaker company called From Rags to Wealth. I understood once I got basketball back that it could be snatched at any time, and I didn’t want to just rely on that.
“I have multi talents, so I can’t waste them all on basketball, and I had done that the first 22 years of my life. I let basketball dumb me down. I went from top high school, top AAU, college player to nothing. I am so grateful the Midnites took a chance on me.”
Kenny Bellinger Jr., a 2010 graduate of Hialeah American High, played two years at St. Petersburg Junior College and then at Armstrong State in Georgia. His dream is to play overseas.
“We have to be realistic enough to know that the NBA isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a living doing what you love,” he said.
The most experienced player of the bunch is 6-8 former University of Miami forward Will Frisby, 33, who played 10 years overseas in Holland, France, China, Spain, Angola and Portugal. He also did stints with the D-League Dakota Wizards and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. He made a good living, averaging $150,000-plus per year, and retired last year to be with his wife and four kids. But he came out of retirement when the Midnites called.
“I’m glad my journey happened this way because my life wouldn’t be as rewarding if it had come easy,” Frisby said. “I’ve learned life lessons. Everyone on this team has, too. It’s a scrappy team of guys cut from different cloths, all had a point of stardom at some point. Everyone’s hungry.”
The Midnites and Maccabi Haifa are owned by Jeffrey H. Rosen, an Aventura resident from New Jersey whose family owned Rose Art, a $300 million toy and arts and crafts company. The team was assembled by Federico Brodsky, a former Argentine player who serves as scout and vice president of operations. Brodsky said the goal is to make the Midnites a true farm team for Maccabi Haifa, where players can earn between $50,000 and $250,000 per season.
“We’ve all got similar stories, same struggles, different paths, and that makes our chemistry stronger on the court,” Gray said. “We’re underdogs, and we thrive on that because we’ve been underdogs all of our lives. We’re diamonds in the rough.”
Miami Edison High coach Damon Wilcox, who moonlights as the Midnites’ coach, describes his team as: “Rough and rugged. These guys don’t have anything to lose, so they play with a chip on their shoulder and their hearts on their sleeves. They want to be noticed, and they play that way.”
▪ The Midnites’ home opener for the 2015 FBA season is at 7 p.m. Sunday at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie (5850 S. Pine Island Rd.). Tickets are $10, and $5 for groups of 10 or more.