Monday, June 26, 2006


A short congratulations to the Miami Heat—the first team of absolute mercenaries to win the NBA Championship. I know, all NBA teams add players to help them towards titles. But the Heat are the first I can recall who added SO many ready-made pieces the same year they won it all. Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, James Posey. Even coach Pat Riley, who as team president replaced previous coach Stan Van Gundy...with himself.

It's funny. Mark Cuban gets a lot of press as a billionaire and free-spender, but as NBA owners go, he's not even all that rich. Heat owner and cruise ship magnate Mickey Arison is worth roughly $6 billion—three times more than Cuban. He's the kind of guy who can afford to have Shaquille O'Neal as a second option. Of course he's also the kind of guy that no one had really laid eyes on until he was accepting the trophy at center court. Cubes, not so shy.

Of course, Cuban makes up for his relative financial shortfalls by placing the team first—spending untold amounts on keeping the players happy, and hanging around the bench like a 12-year-old kid at his first game. He's genuinely taken in by the spectacle of pro sports, and it's safe to assume that he'll do his best to have the Mavericks right back in the Finals next year. That's not to say the Mavs will definitely be able to handle the Spurs and Suns again, but you can bet Cuban will give them all they need.

Will the Heat be as hungry next year? Dwyane Wade will be, but everyone else? Shaq, sure. As befitting someone who wants to be known as the greatest of all-time, he would love to add more rings to his collection (and separate himself further from Kobe Bryant in the process). But what of this year's additions? Payton, Williams, Walker, Posey. Do they want more? Or is the one year of work/reward enough? Will they be willing to do what it takes to stay ahead of the pack, to once again handle Detroit (and maybe a VERY hungry LeBron James?). I don't see it. In fact, the Heat seem to me to be the first championship team in recent memory who won't be the favorites going into next season. Who, in fact, were probably being written off for '07 before they even started celebrating '06.

Unless, that is, they get the same refs.

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