This column by Dan Le Batard was originally published in the Miami Herald on June 21, 2006. The Miami Heat defeated the Dallas Mavericks 95-92 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to win its first championship. See historic images and buy memorabilia at Flashback Miami.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Smiling and hugging and screaming and dancing and blowing kisses and raising index fingers and pounding on their hearts and high-fiving and laughing and raising their arms in triumph, the best basketball team South Florida has ever seen held up the golden trophy at midnight here Tuesday night.
Miami 95, Dallas 92.
The champion Miami Heat.
Hold on a second.
Let that one marinate for a second.
The champion Miami Heat.
One more time.
Just to let it soak in so that you know you weren’t dreaming last night.
The champion Miami Heat is the best basketball team in the world, and it is a startling, flabbergasting, wonderful thing to say today. Let history record that it wasn’t but four games ago that the season looked spent, down 13 points with six minutes left and down 2-0 in this series. But the Mavericks exhaled to enjoy the view before completing the climb. And an avalanche by the name of Dwyane Wade suddenly fell out of the sunny sky on their stunned heads and filled their agape mouths with sand.
Get used to this, South Florida.
Wade isn’t done.
He’s just starting.
FULFILLING A PROMISE
Finishing? It wouldn’t be surprising if Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton and even Pat Riley decided to retire from here. Riley is greedy about greatness, but he was made weary by this climb and needs hip replacement surgery and now he has delivered on the promised parade down Biscayne Boulevard that he talked about upon arriving in 1995.
“That stupid comment,” he has called that promise in the decade since.
But now it is reality, all Tuesday’s joy about to spill into Miami’s streets in coming days.
“No excuses,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “Miami deserved to win.”
Mourning was exceptional Tuesday, setting picks, blocking shots, flexing muscles. He was the face of the franchise once, the face of frustration and almost.
Playing on a borrowed kidney, he wanted in an uncommon way Tuesday. And you should have seen the smile spread across his face as he held up that trophy.
“I’d give up all six of them for this one,” Riley said of his championships. “You keep chasing and chasing and you get tired.”
Wade was booed during introductions. Booed louder than he was in his first two games here. Booed louder than Shaquille O’Neal, even. That’s the sound of respect. As Reggie Jackson once said, they don’t boo nobodies.
WADE TAKES OVER
Dallas jumped out to a 26-12 lead, but Wade wasn’t having that. And from that point on, you could feel the life leaking out of the building. Surely, the Mavericks could, too. What began as a mushroom cloud of noise, angry and loud, soon became silent fear — so silent that you could hear Mourning’s echoing screams bounce after he dunked with hostility upon the head of DJ Mbenga. Another Mavs miss? The arena groaned in unison. Another Wade make? The arena sagged in unison. The precious home-court advantage? It evaporated right before your ears.
Dallas led by 14 in the first quarter. Miami sliced it to nothing. Dallas led by 10 in the second quarter. Miami took away the lead with another angry burst. The Dallas crowd and Dallas players seemed to have this in common — terror. They were feeding each other negativity like an abusive and dysfunctional relationship. Dirk Nowitzki scored the last basket of the half for his 17th point, an exceptional total, but this was met with only a smattering of muffled applause. Miami led 49-48.
The Mavs and their fans could feel it: Miami had played terribly, with 12 sloppy turnovers, and was winning anyway. Miami had missed six of its seven three-pointers and was winning anyway. Shaq wasn’t scoring, and Miami was winning anyway. Dallas had 19 fast-break points, playing at its preferred speed, and was losing anyway. Dallas kept letting Antoine Walker shoot, and he kept missing, and Dallas was losing anyway.
Dallas’ nice, little second-place season was down to a half.
And Miami had the most dangerous assassin on the court.
The life leaked out of this Dallas building, this Dallas team, this Dallas season. In all my years covering sports, I’ve never once been in a building that felt this afraid for game-related reasons. For an injury to a star player slumped on the ground, yes. For team falling flat, no. If not for the music thumping, the electric and sexy Dallas dance team would have been gyrating in complete silence in the third quarter. Oh, wait. What’s that little racket? Oh, never mind. It was the sound of a small pocket of traveling Miami fans clacking clackers imported from South Florida.
CHOKED BY FEAR
So the ball got heavier, as if it were filled with 40 pounds of sand. The rim got smaller. Throats constricted. Wade had put the fear of Michael Jordan in them. And breathing became difficult until, finally, Dallas expired.
Nowitzki scored 29 points, only two of them in the fourth quarter. Jason Terry scored 16 points, none of them in the fourth quarter. Wade, meanwhile, was smiling and laughing and passing the ball behind his back as the Mavs let subs Marquis Daniels and Jerry Stackhouse take all the important shots.
The Mavs appeared allergic to the rim. They settled for jumper after clanking jumper. And its hard to make those when your hands are shaking. Up six with 3:41 left, Miami could hear the “Let’s go Heat!” chant from its tiny pocket of fans. Up five with 17.7 seconds left, fans evacuated as if the building was on fire, that let’s-go-Heat chant chasing them to the exits. “Let’s go Heat” filled the arena.
A curious choice of music came next — “It’s getting hot in here.”
“Let’s here a big round of applause for your Dallas Mavericks,” the PA announcer implored as Miami danced and hugged and screamed and help up the trophy.
But you didn’t hear much of anything from the stunned crowd.
All you could hear, above it all, above the entire sport, was the celebrating Miami Heat.