There are many, many differences between the great Miami Dolphins teams of the early 1970s and the current Miami Heat team. The most striking difference is the star quality. Though the Dolphins team had future Hall of Famers, they were better known for their anonymity and their 'No Name Defense.' The current Heat squad was described by the Chicago Bulls' Joaquim Noah as 'Hollywood as Hell'.
The driving forces behind both championship runs were young, talented men from Ohio. Don Shula, a native of Grand River, Ohio, was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. LeBron James, a native of Akron, Ohio, was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both Grand River and Akron are less than an hour from Cleveland.
Their playing careers obviously took different arcs. Shula got into coaching after a solid, but brief, playing career, but both individuals experienced tough losses as young professionals when first afforded an opportunity to win a championship. Shula's Baltimore Colts were upset by the brash Joe Namath's New York Jets in Super Bowl III. LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.
Don Shula left the Baltimore Colts under controversial circumstances, and his prior employer was not pleased. Carroll Rosenbloom, then-Colts owner, claimed that Shula seldom wins the big one. After LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami, he also had to deal with an angry ex-employer, Dan Gilbert, who questioned his ability to win. For both individuals, their championship mettle was in question.
The year was 1970. Don Shula signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins that would forever change the course of that franchise. Forty years later, in 2010, LeBron James signed a contract that altered the Miami Heat's place in NBA history. But success did not come easily. Both experienced failure against a team from Dallas. Shula's Dolphins were utterly dominated by a Dallas Cowboys team that had fallen short in their initial Super Bowl showing. The Dolphins lost to the Cowboys after the completion of the 1971 season. Forty years later, the Miami Heat watched as their opponent from Dallas hoisted the championship trophy and experiencing their own championship disappointment. After 1971 and 2011, Don Shula and LeBron James were now 0-2 in championship appearances. The losses stung, and 1972 proved to be the breakthrough season for Don Shula, while 2012 proved to be the breakthrough year for LeBron James.
The Dolphins of 1972 went through the season with only one item on their agenda. To return to the Super Bowl and win it. LeBron James returned in the 2011/2012 season more focused than ever on winning his first ring. In 1972, Don Shula won his fourth NFL Coach of the Year award and his first Super Bowl. In 2012, LeBron James won his third MVP award and his first NBA Championship. While both were well respected as the best in their field, they had finally achieved the ultimate goal of winning a title.
In 1973, the Miami Dolphins won a second consecutive Super Bowl. Shula was crowned as champion once again. Although the 1973 squad lost two games, many perceived this team as being superior to the previous undefeated team. LeBron James came back with an even more efficient MVP season in 2012/2013. He was now a two-time NBA champion.
Where do the Miami Heat go from here? Miami hoops fans hope that the same fate that befell the Miami Dolphins does not hit LeBron James and the Heat.
In 1974, the Miami Dolphins lost to the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs on a last minute touchdown pass from Ken Stabler to Clarence Davis. There is a fine line between winning and losing. Miami's Vern den Herder wrapped his arms around Ken Stabler's legs in an effort to pull him to the ground, but Stabler threw his pass before his knees could hit. With that effort, Miami's bid for a three-peat was extinguished.
After the 1974 season, the Miami Dolphins lost three key championship components, Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield, and Jim Kiick, who left for the 'greener' pastures of the World Football League.
Will the Miami Heat win their third straight title? Will they lose three stars? We can only hope that the Miami Heat's shared history with the Dolphins takes a different path.