Of all the moments he’s shared with play-by-play man Eric Reid as the lead color analyst for Miami Heat games over the last 15 years, the one Tony Fiorentino still laughs about to this day could make you giggle and a little grossed out at the same time.
“Eric and I go into the arena [in Minnesota] and we’re getting ready to do the open [of the pregame show] and we’re sitting on our stools looking toward the stands and we see a kid sitting there and he’s eating an ice cream cone and a cookie and we’re thinking, ‘Man, he’s eating too much stuff,’ ” Fiorentino, 68, recalled Friday night before the Heat lost to the Knicks 122-98 at Madison Square Garden.
“Don’t you know, I think it was the second quarter, all of a sudden we hear something, I turn around, the kid threw up all over my jacket. And we were just starting a West Coast trip. To be honest, it was a suit I had to wear again on the trip. So I had to send it to the cleaners when we got to Los Angeles. So that was a comical moment. It got a lot laughs from people. And every time we’ve gone back there, people who were there, sitting there, remind me of what happened. They laugh when they see us, to this day.”
That was 10 years ago. Wednesday night at halftime of the Heat’s final home game of the regular season, the team will take a moment to honor Fiorentino’s 15th and final season behind the mic.
He could call a few playoff games locally broadcasted, but once the Heat is eliminated – or celebrating its fourth NBA title – that will be it for Fiorentino’s role as color analyst. The Heat announced in January that former Heat player John Crotty, 48, will replace Fiorentino next season. Crotty has worked on the Heat’s radio broadcasts and television studio broadcasts since 2005.
Fiorentino, who began his stint with the Heat in its inaugural season as an assistant coach under Ron Rothstein and served as an assistant under Pat Riley for four years (1995-99), will remain with the organization running its basketball camps (something he’s done since the start) and other community events. But his familiar voice with a thick Italian, New York accent will no longer be on the air.
“It’s really unique to work with somebody that you’ve been friends with for 30 years,” Reid said of Fiorentino, his longest tenured on-air partner. “When I came in I was the color analyst and I knew to succeed in that first year I had to develop a relationship with the coaches and Rothstein and Tony were two of the three coaches on that first staff. And, the access Ronnie gave me not only helped me that year, but it planted the seeds of a friendship with Tony that’s grown into a lifetime bond of brotherhood. [We’ve called] close to 1,100 regular season games together... just a great experience working with a true lifelong friend.”
Reid and Fiorentino are the only NBA broadcasting team in the league who has been with the same organization since its inception.
“We’re proud of that,” Reid said.
Among the moments Fiorentino says he will treasure the most in his time as a broadcaster: Dwyane Wade’s game-winning basket in his first playoff game ever against the Hornets in 2004.
“That’s the game when Dwyane Wade came of age, when he made the winning shot and I said something like, ‘Stan Van Gundy went to the rookie and he delivered.’ So that was cool,” Fiorentino said of the winning bucket against the Hornets.
“Another one was when we were in the Garden and Dwyane made the jump shot to win the game. We’re from New York and we know how passionate the fans are. There were 20,000 fans here and I said right after Eric did his thing, I said, ‘How do you quiet 20,000 New Yorkers? Make Dwyane Wade make a jumper at the buzzer.’ So, I really enjoyed that one.”
The job he’s most proud of: when the Heat won only 15 games in Riley’s final season as coach.
“Right before coach [Erik] Spoelstra became the coach, 10 years ago,” Fiorentino said. “15 and 67 and yet we brought it every night. I’m proud of our announcing staff, Jason Jackson, the guys in the truck. We brought it every night. If you were listening to our broadcast you would never know we won 15 games that year. That’s the one year I’m most proud of because it’s easy to do it when you’re championship team. But to bring it every night and be prepared. You know people don’t know how much preparation goes behind what we do. I have these sheets that [radio play-by-play announcer] Mike Ingles helped me create on the flash drive. Everyone knows about how prepared Eric was with all his bullets and all his information. But you just try to have enough information, what you do is try to inform the fans of what’s going on.”
Fiorentino said his goal as a broadcaster was to be fair to both teams and officials while also teaching the audience about the game. As a coach it was something he took great pride in.
“I’m a little biased obviously, but I think coaches make the best analysts – because sometimes it’s how you say something,” Fiorentino said. “A player may not be playing well, but there’s a way to say it without killing the player. Because it’s going to happen. Most hometown fans don’t realize that every team in the league and almost every player in the league goes through the same problems. They have the same bad nights, same off-shooting nights. So you try to explain it without killing your guy or the opponent.
“We tried not to kill anybody. We tried to tell the story.
“All we ever tried to do was be honest, entertain and inform the fans. I think we did that for 15 years. I’m very proud that even though we wanted to win, the Heat to win, and we favored the Heat, we were always very honest with calls, we were very honest with the opponents, giving the opponents credit. And everywhere we went around the league, the opposing coaches respected that fact. They would tell us. Officials respected the fact that we were honest on calls, things of that nature.”
Fiorentino said he’s enjoyed his final season behind the mic because of the way fans have treated him.
“The fans, social media has been unbelievable this past year, knowing it’s my last year,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of many, many kudos from the fans for the many years we put in together. And it’s been a lot of fun.”