Prior to this season, the Miami Heat title odds were 60-1, ranking 14th out of 30 teams with the likelihood to win the NBA championship. In other words, if you would have bet $100 on the Miami Heat winning the championship, you potentially could have made over $6000. With the NBA finals upon us, they are four wins away from turning this into a reality.
Heading into the finals, the Heat are in the midst of a historic playoff run. They have only lost a total of three games thus far — sweeping the Pacers, easily dispatching back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in five games and powering past the Celtics in six games. Their playoff win percentage is higher than the 2013 Heat, which boasted LeBron James and the Big Three. On top of that, they are doing this all as the fifth seed — the first fifth seed team or lower to make a finals appearance in over 20 years since the New York Knicks in 1999.
A championship team typically features at least one generational talented superstar. In the past five years, those players have included Stephen Curry, James, Kevin Durant and most recently Kawhi Leonard.
Unlike these previous championship teams, the Heat are not carried through one such player. With all the odds stacked against them, how did they pull off this improbable journey? It all comes down to one thing: culture. The Heat are a scrappy bunch who operate cohesively as a unit. In summary, this team is built on underdogs.
“You had to go through something in life that put a chip on your shoulder,” said longtime Heat forward Udonis Haslem. “And that’s built grit inside you that you’re willing to go through extreme circumstances to get where you’re trying to go.”
For starters, the Heat has four undrafted players which include All-Rookie first team member Kendrick Nunn, sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, along with Haslem — who is currently the longest tenured player in franchise history.
Goran Dragić, who averaged 21 points against the Celtics, started off his professional basketball career in Europe. After spending five seasons in Europe, Dragic was drafted in 2008 with the 45th pick in the second round. He went on to win the Most Improved Player Award in 2014 and was named to his first All-Star selection in 2018.
Jimmy Butler is the ultimate underdog. When Butler was just an infant, Butler’s father abandoned his household. At age 13, Butler was kicked out of his house and became homeless, living house to house. Amid all the uncertainty in his life, this 13-year-old Butler held on tightly to one dream — a dream to play in the NBA. Butler’s unwavering self-determination along with his extraordinary work-ethic is how he got drafted with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Since then, Butler has gone on to become a five time All-Star and now finds himself in his first NBA Finals with the chance to win his very first championship.
Even Miami’s head coach Erik Spoelstra was once considered to be an underdog. Spoelstra started off with the Heat as a video coordinator and frequently got promoted in a 13-year span from video coordinator to assistant coach to advanced scout to finally getting Miami’s head coaching position in 2008. Spoelstra went on to coach James and the Big Three, helping the team win two titles as its head coach.
Do I really need to go any further? Do I need to bring up this past draft where 12 teams passed up on Tyler Herro, who torched the Celtics for 37 points and shot 50 percent from 3-point range? Should I bring up the draft in 2017 where many teams passed up on Bam Adebayo as he ultimately ended up on the Heat with the 14th selection?
It is this shared identity of resilience and self-determination that connects this team together. As you have seen, this organization believes in itself even when others are quick to rule them out. When a collective set of underdogs unite together and believe in each other, anything becomes possible. This is the magical formula that Heat president Pat Riley has instilled in his team. In this case, the common goal is to win the championship and this organization will do whatever it takes to achieve this goal.
This is the precise reason why Butler and the Heat are the perfect marriage. Butler thrives on teams that encourage extreme levels of accountability. Unlike on other teams where players may have taken his bluntness personally, this team embraces his personality. At the end of the day, everything is done in order to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the championship.
Once again, the Heat find the odds stacked against them as the Lakers are the presumptive favorite to win this year’s NBA title. The official odds have the Lakers at -5.
This year’s Lakers will be no easy opponent by any means. James is looking to capture his fourth NBA title and is chasing the likes of Michael Jordan. Additionally, this Lakers team is hungrier than ever, as winning this particular title would carry an extremely profound meaning with the death of Kobe Bryant earlier this year. But in some weird way, the Heat truly embodies the values that Bryant and his Mamba mentality stood for — the mentality to reach for the impossible and to do whatever it takes to succeed in the face of adversity. Ironically, the Heat almost embodies these values more so than the current Lakers team, who have several former number one overall picks in James, Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard. Surely, we can all take away an important life lesson from this year’s Heat team.
Overall, this will not be the first time the Heat have been underdogs. There is a common saying that history tends to repeat itself. That being said, don’t be surprised if, once again, the Heat finds a way to shock the world.