Sun Sentinel Columnist
12:17 PM PDT, October 20, 2012
Dan Majerle laughed when the fact was pointed out to him, because it meant the Miami Heat not only have gotten on in years, but so has he.
"Wow, time flies," he said from his office at the US Airways Center in Phoenix. "I can't be that old. Twenty-five years? Are you sure?"
Yes, we're so sure that the Heat turn 25 this season that on Monday, in this space, we'll be unveiling our reader poll for the Heat's 25th Anniversary teams.
"It goes by quickly, doesn't it? Majerle said.
To a degree, Majerle holds a unique perspective on the Heat's 25th anniversary, having entered the league in 1988 with the Phoenix Suns, in time to witness the Heat's inaugural 15-67 season, and then having joined the franchise just as Pat Riley was turning it into a perennial playoff fixture. Now, as a Suns assistant coach, working under former Heat coach Alvin Gentry, he finds himself among the 29 other teams seeking to unseat the Heat as NBA champions.
While he would like to think he had something to do with the Heat's transformation, in 1997 playing on the first Heat team to win a playoff series, he said the undeniable truth is the moment the Heat began to matter is when Riley arrived Sept. 2, 1995 as team president and coach.
"It all changed with Coach Riley," he said.
And when Riley called Majerle in the 1996 offseason during free agency, he jumped at the opportunity to join something he believed could become special.
"That's what a guy like Riles does," Majerle said. "He brings instant credibility to any organization, wherever you go. It doesn't hurt that Miami is a great city and it would be a good place to play. But you throw in a guy like Coach Riley, who has a reputation and has the credentials that he has, he's going to get good players."
Often lost in the Riley takeover is Micky Arison stepping in months earlier to assume operational control. This was, after all, a team at one point leasing a plane so questionable with its pressurization that players would cite lingering ear issues.
"With Micky, and the way he ran that organization, and the way that Pat does things, if those guys weren't there, I wouldn't have gone there," said Majerle, who stayed for five seasons, before closing out his career with a 2001-02 reunion season in Phoenix. "To have an opportunity to play with a guy like Pat and the organization with Micky, the way he runs it, made the experience special."
The final step in franchise validation, Majerle said, was the move into AmericanAirlines Arena in January 2000.
"There's always an extra air of excitement when you're opening a new building and you have new facilities," he said. "Not only are the players excited, but the fans are excited and it sets the organization on a whole different level."
At 47, there isn't quite as much thunder in "Thunder Dan" these days, although the ubiquitous tan remains, something that makes all the sense for a player who spent all but one of his 14 seasons playing in either Phoenix or Miami.
And, yes, he, too, offered his vote for the Sun Sentinel's Heat 25th Anniversary team that will be revealed Monday, one of the more than 20,000 voters to do so: Alonzo Mourning (a Majerle teammate) at center; Udonis Haslem at power forward ("Just because," Majerle said, "he's been through the most"); LeBron James at small forward (Majerle laughing that he even was on the ballot at the position); Dwyane Wade at shooting guard (with Majerle laughing that Voshon Lenard could even be placed on the same ballot at the position); and Tim Hardaway (another Majerle teammate) at point guard.
IN THE LANE
THE NARRATIVE: No matter where LeBron James does or doesn't go when his 2014 opt-out arrives, it hardly is surprising that the Los Angeles Lakers are allowing the current narrative of LeBron-to-Lakers to play out. By keeping the notion alive, and, to a degree, by advancing it with talk of where the franchise could turn in 2014 free agency, it can only enhance the odds of getting Dwight Howard to re-up. To a degree, even if the Lakers don't get LeBron, they would come out ahead of the game if the mere speculation leads Dwight to the dotted line. It is, in essence, a tamper-proof means of both seducing LeBron and securing Dwight, with the distinct possibility that James and the Lakers never even get to the negotiating table. To a degree, it almost is Riley-esque. Well played, Buss family.
BRING IT ON: The buildup to the Heat's Oct. 30 season opener against the visiting Boston Celtics keeps getting juicier and juicier, fueled now by the diary guard Jason Terry is keeping for ESPN. From the first entry: "It didn't take me long to embrace being a Celtic. I hate whoever they hate. The Lakers are number one up there and the Heat aren't too far behind. Doc [Rivers, the Celtics coach] tells us every day to think about the Heat. Not only does he tell us, but the film plays over and over if you go to the practice facility. Before practice and after practice, that series [2012 Eastern Conference Finals] is playing over and over on the television."
TRUE FEAR: So what was that mid-February night like for Jeremy Lin, when the Heat defended the then-New York Knicks guard into submission last season? Lin, now with the Houston Rockets, described the feeling during in a "GQ" interview: "It's flattering -- and terrifying. It's flattering because it's like, 'OK, they actually care. They actually know who I am and I'm on their scouting report,' which never would have happened before. And then it's terrifying because they're really good . . . and it's so different for me to all of a sudden become the focal point of a team's defense. That's just uncharted territory for me. I felt like they were all like hawks circling me and staring. It was a learning experience."
DITTO: Then there is Knicks' 3-point specialist Steve Novak, who was suffocated by the Heat's defense in the first round of last season's playoffs, when he only was able to squeeze off seven 3-point shots over the five games in his 95 minutes. "It keeps coming up," he told the New York Post. "There's no doubt it left a bitter taste in our mouth. We'll be better for it." Coach Mike Woodson this past week credited the Heat's switching defense for stifling Novak and said he hopes better play at point guard will eliminate such concerns. The Knicks added Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni at the point in the offseason, with former Heat point guard Mike Bibby among those discarded.
DEPT. OF EX-HEAT: No your eyes weren't deceiving you during the Heat's exhibitions against the Clippers, Lamar Odom is that out of shape. Coach Vinny Del Negro has admitted as much, saying the offseason acquisition and former Heat forward will be cast in a limited role until he restores his body . . . Former Heat guard Daequan Cook is finding himself being pushed for minutes with the Oklahoma City Thunder by rookie Perry Jones III and Lazar Hayward.
2-0. Heat preseason record at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, where they play Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.
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