This week, two of my former teams are having fabulous winning streaks. My Denver Nuggets just ended a 15-game run to finally get noticed in the West and my Miami Heat are still going at 27 straight as they approach the all-time record of 33 consecutive wins set by my Los Angeles Lakers.
The great thing about an 18-year NBA career is that after playing on seven different teams, you always have one of your former teams to root for!
At the end of my active playing career I had either played for, played for the coach (15 in 18 years) or had a former teammate on every team in the league except the Clippers and Spurs. Needless to say, I never got lonely on the road. I always had a friend to hang out with!
With such a diverse career, no matter what happens in the league I can still take credit for it. In 15 of the last 20 years, I had played for one or both of the teams in the NBA Finals. It makes it a lot more fun to root for your former team. Or teams.
In watching and covering the two streaking teams I can’t help but look back at some of the great games that helped define the two franchises that I had the pleasure of playing for.
I was in Miami for Pat Riley’s first season. The franchise had a losing history as a recent expansion team and Pat brought a major change to the entire city. He had brought his Lakers championship experience and was given complete control over the franchise to rebuild.
Riley revamped the front office, the ticket sales people and the PR department before starting on the players. He turned over virtually the entire roster, including trading five players in one day. It turns out that day was also a visit by the powerhouse Chicago Bulls, who were 48-5 on their way to 72-10 and arrived in Miami to face a struggling team with just eight active players.
Needless to say, we were not given much of a chance that night.
As one of the oldest players in the league at that time, I played relief minutes and made a nice contribution. Sometimes having fewer players can work for you as it gives players the opportunity to “step up” to the challenge. With so much going against, us we had a freedom to just go for it. No one expected us to even be in the game.
It was a combination of inspired play (Rex Chapman made 9-of-10 3-pointers and dropped 39 points), a great home court advantage (Miami’s famed night life), and being dismissed by our opponent that carried the day. We went on to win a then-franchise record 42 games, but this one made our season.