It’s about culture.
Culture, per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, means “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”
That is an accurate representation of the Miami Heat. Everyone buys in.
Pat Riley has instilled a true culture within the Heat locker room. From the front office to the coaching staff to the players, Riley and the Arison family have laid a solid and formidable foundation in South Beach that has created one of the best organizations across the NBA. Players are happy, the staff is happy, and everyone works as one unit inside the Heat franchise.
In the era of resting players and quitting during a season in the process of tanking for high draft picks in hopes for a quick rebuild, Miami had a big decision to make as they sat with a 11-30 record in the middle of January: to tank for a top 5 pick in a highly talented 2017 NBA Draft class or to turn around the season and show that the #Culture in Miami is for real.
The Heat chose the latter.
The season looked to be doomed with only 11 wins through 41 games and Justise Winslow gone for the year due to a shoulder injury. Dwyane Wade had left for Chicago in the offseason, Chris Bosh was still deemed unable to play upon failing his physical before training camp, and injuries began to mount up during the early part of the 2016-2017 campaign. With a draft coming up with talented guards such as Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Dennis Smith, no one would have been too mad if Riley and Spo decided to throw the season in the bag and begin the rebuild next season.
But, Erik Spoelstra had other plans. Spoelstra rallied the troops and turned around the Heat’s season in a big, big way. Dion Waiters became a big time clutch player, James Johnson captured the heart of Heat Nation, Goran Dragic controlled the team, and Hassan Whiteside put together an impressive season. The promising Winslow was done for the season and constant unfortunate injuries throughout the year would have gave an excuse for the Heat to tank, but the team battled every night and fought for wins each and every night. Fans were looking at mock drafts online and #HeatTwitter was preparing themselves for a top five selection in June.
And then came the win streak.
Coming off an eight-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami was looking at a long remainder to their season. But then, a win streak turned around their season. A win streak that symbolized the Heat culture. With James Harden in town, Goran Dragic dropped 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists, Dion Waiters added 17 more, and the Heat knocked off the Houston Rockets by six in a victory that jump-started an unpredictable win streak. During the streak, Miami defeated a healthy Golden State Warriors team in dramatic fashion on a Waiters buzzer beater, as well as wins against playoff teams such as the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Defense has been the calling card for the Heat for years, but it was actually the three-point shooting and the high scoring that changed the fortunes of the season for the team filled with overlooked talent in the 305. The team played with a fast, exciting pace that spaced the floor with shooters around Hassan Whiteside. The result? A franchise record 16 (!) game streak of scoring at least 100 points that lasted from the third game of their 13-game winning streak on January 21st against Milwaukee until an 18-point victory over Indiana in the AmericanAirlines Arena on February 25th.
The new identity that led to resembled what the #culture is all about: putting the name on the front of the uniform ahead of the name on the back.
The culture turned Waiters into a formidable scorer that the team relied on in big time, clutch moments. As soon as he met the great Pat Riley, Waiters started to understand what the Miami Heat culture is all about.
In an article written on The Player’s Tribune, Waiters wrote on the experience of meeting the man that has helped bring all three of the franchise’s championships.
If you want to know what it’s like to meet Pat Riley, you need to watch that movie.
When I heard that Miami was interested in me this summer, I wasn’t really seeing it at first. Nothing against the Heat, but I didn’t know how I’d fit there.
Then I met Pat Riley.
I walked into his office and … damn. The hair was slicked back, and he was wearing one of those suits of his, you know, real O.G., looking like a million bucks. Behind him, he’s got photos of all his championship teams lining the walls. He’s wearing one of his nine rings.
From that moment, the 4th overall selection of the 2012 NBA Draft knew he wanted to play in the organization that this man led. The Heat’s new guard transformed his body, crediting the “culture” for his new and improved shape. Waiters continued his article on the Tribune, noting that Riley wanted to make sure that he would be in the best shape possible.
Then Pat says, “We’re going to get you in world-class shape. Not good shape. Not great shape. World-class shape.”
I mean, I’m in the NBA. In my mind, I’m already in good shape. But do I eat a Philly steak every now and then when I’m home? You know I do.
So Pat’s looking at me like, “Give us a season, and you’ll see. World-class.”
World-class shape is exactly what happened. The transformation of Waiters’ body is obvious, proving that the Heat have put together the coaching and the training staff necessary to have each player in great shape. From top to bottom, everyone in the building understands what the goal is: win.
The story of Waiters arriving in Miami shows how the lure of Riley — along with the amazing weather, attractions, and the scenery in South Beach — plays a role in convincing players to wear a Heat uniform. Riley uses his rings, his attitude about winning, and his rich history of success to show why Miami is the place to be. Waiters fully embraced the culture and bought into the message that Riley, Arison, and Spoelstra was selling. As a result, the 25 year-old guard has revived his career heading into free agency.
In addition to the impressive development of Waiters, James Johnson turned into a high-level player in Miami. The 6-foot-9 30 year-old forward developed into a prototypical stretch 4 - averaging 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and shooting 48% from the floor over the course of his debut season. Johnson, also an upcoming free agency, has found new life in his NBA career thanks to the culture in Miami.
Two players that did not seem to fit in anywhere else, flourished in Spoelstra’s system and the Heat organization as a whole.
Not only did the veterans improve, but the season showed continuous development in Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, and the rookie Rodney McGruder. Coming off a huge 4 year, $98 million deal, Whiteside put together another solid season. The franchise center set a single-season franchise record with 58 double-doubles in 82 games. Tyler Johnson, who signed a 4-year, $50 million contract last summer, scored 13.7 per game and has shown lots of potential going forward for the Heat. Josh Richardson battled injuries throughout the year, but is a solid contributor of the Heat’s core going forward. Both McGruder and Okaro White rose up from the Sioux Falls Skyforce and were both bright spots this season. Miami has proved to be one of the better staffs across the NBA in both evaluating talent and developing players. The staff is never satisfied and have instilled a sense of a great work ethic in everyone that puts on the uniform.
Spoelstra has been overlooked for most of his tenure as head coach, especially in the eyes of the general public. His accomplishments were diminished by skeptics during the Big Three Era and many of them believed he would fail once LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland. Spo continues to prove his critics wrong. The second half of the season is the epitome of the Heat culture. A vision is sold, the players buy in, and the wins come.
Leading the Heat to become the first team in NBA history to go from 19 games under .500 (11-30) to .500 (41-41) in the same season Spoelstra pulled off an amazing coaching performance and put his brilliance to display as the Heat fought for a spot in the postseason. Miami barely missed out due to a tiebreaker, but the coaching job Spo has performed over the last two season proves that he is one of the most intelligent and talented coaches in the game.
Pat Riley is still hungry. The best GM in the league is starving for another chance at reaching glory and tasting the campaign. In an interview with ESPN’s Wright Thompson that explained Riley’s thoughts after the breakup of the Big Three era, Riley explained that he is still looking for “one more”; although, he is very aware that it will be a challenge.
A hungry Pat Riley is an extremely scary thought for the other 29 teams. Heat Nation should be very excited about what Riley has up his sleeve as he continues to build this roster through draft selections, potential trades, D-League, and/or the free agent market. When the Godfather has his mind set on something, he will make sure to do everything that he can to accomplish the goal.
This off-season will be filled with speculation surrounding what will happen in the NBA Draft, potential trades, free agency, and whether or not Riley can land a “whale”, but no matter what happens, the Miami Heat have built a culture surrounding the entire organization that has made them one of the best run franchises in the league with a foundation built to last.