When Did the Miami Heat Become an NBA Franchise?

For the second time in three years, the Boston Celtics will face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The last time they met in the postseason, they played in a Disney bubble with no fans in attendance. The Heat knocked off the Celtics in six games and went on to lose to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals.

The Heat and Celtics are two teams with completely different histories. The Celtics have a rich tradition with numerous retired jerseys hanging from the rafters. Their 17 championships are tied for the most ever.

The Heat have three championships and are relatively new to the NBA scene. Boston had a much bigger head start in its quest for NBA glory, beginning in 1946. That was long before the Heat were even a thought.

The Miami Heat came into the NBA as an expansion team with three others in the late 1980s

A view of the Miami Heat logo on the court during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers at AmericanAirlines Arena on May 22, 2013, in Miami, Florida. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.

The NBA granted four expansion teams in 1987. Two of them — the Heat and the Charlotte Hornets — began play in the 1988-89 season. The other two — the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Timberwolves — jumped on board the following year.

Like most expansion teams, the Heat struggled out of the gates. Miami won 15 games in its inaugural season and finished with 18 victories the following year.

It wasn’t until Year 4 when Miami got a taste of postseason basketball after racking up 38 wins. In their first eight years of existence, the Heat made the playoffs three times, failing to make it past the first round each time.

In 1995, Micky Arison purchased the team and brought in former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley after he coached four years with the New York Knicks. In his second year with the team, he guided the Heat to a 61-21 record and brought them to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

The key to Miami’s turnaround was the acquisitions of point guard Tim Hardaway and center Alonzo Mourning. The two became franchise cornerstones and a big part of the team’s success. During that 61-win season, they went 32-9 on the road.

Riley coached 11 years in Miami. He stepped down for two seasons as head coach to focus on building the team from the front office. He brought in Shaquille O’Neal via trade and added veteran point guard Gary Payton to an already talented team. Riley returned as head coach for the 2005-06 season, leading Miami to its first NBA Finals appearance in 2006. Led by Dwyane Wade, Miami’s top pick in 2003, the Heat topped the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals for the franchise’s first championship.

The Heat look to return to the NBA Finals for the seventh time in franchise history

Free agent LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and joined the Heat for the 2010-11 season. With James joining Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat made the NBA Finals four straight seasons. They won consecutive championships in 2012 and 2013.

Now they have an opportunity to get back. They face the Celtics in a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he believes his team’s matchup with the Celtics will be a defensive battle. He said it should be a “throwback” series that will make Riley happy.

“Pat’s probably is going to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said Monday, per ESPN. “This is like a throwback series. If both teams are really on top of their games, this should be a series where neither team is scoring 130 points.

“Both teams hang their hats on rock-solid team defense, and making multiple efforts and being disciplined to schemes. So it will be a lot of plays and things in the margins. That’s what you expect.

“Really, we were the two best teams in the East most of the season and it’s fitting that we’re moving into the conference finals.”

When Spoelstra said “throwback,” he didn’t mean the physical games of the 1980s that ended up in brawls.

“I say throwback, I really want to clarify. It’s not going to be like football,” he said. “We don’t need the extra officiating, or we don’t need anyone thinking they need to clean it up. It’s not going to be like that. It’s just that you have two really committed defensive teams, that should lend itself if both teams are playing at a high level, it shouldn’t be 150-point games.”

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