Sun Sentinel NBA writer Ira Winderman has covered the Miami Heat since their inception in 1988. In this piece he reflects on how he and the Heat made it through the first 25 seasons, as the two-time-defending NBA champions prepare to open training camp for their 26th season on Tuesday in the Bahamas.
Consider it a rookie mistake, part of taking flight with the Miami Heat.
The year was 1988. The Heat, then an expansion team, were flying into Salt Lake City, at a time when NBA teams still flew commercial.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- Ira's 25 years covering the Miami Heat
- Photos: The top 25 players in Miami Heat history
- Photos: Miami Heat all-time opening-day lineups
- Photos: Travel down memory lane with these key dates in Heat history
- Readers poll: Miami Heat's 25th-Anniversary First Team
- Photos: LeBron James through the years
See more photos »
- Miami Heat
- Professional Basketball
See more topics »
- 601 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33132, USA
In the bowels of coach, somewhere over the heartland, the first-year beat writer slipped off his shoes.
As the plane descended, Billy Thompson, the former Los Angeles Lakers championship forward, sat at the front of the first-class cabin swinging a pair of black loafers in the aisle, grinning. Teammates turned back and smiled, as well.
Shoeless is not the way to go in the Salt Lake airport in December.
Circling on a baggage carousel minutes later were a lone pair of shoes, as out of place as the strikingly tall men standing, smiling a few feet away.
The inaugural 1988-89 Heat would win only 15 of 82 games. To a degree, this counted as a victory for them, as well.
That's how it was at the start: Enjoying the ride, not knowing that 25 years later it would leave the Heat preparing to defend the franchise's third championship, with training camp to open Tuesday in the Bahamas.
No, the plan at the outset was not to be aboard for those first 25 seasons, about to embark on a 26th season as the eyes, ears and voice of the Sun Sentinel's Miami Heat coverage.
And, yes, much has changed, Thompson now a pastor in Boca Raton, regularly leading Heat pregame chapel sessions.
See ya' later Florida Gators
It started with a phone call midway through 1988, amid an assignment in Gainesville, the Sun Sentinel the first non-Gainesville newspaper to relocate a Gators beat writer full-time to Gainesville.
At 28, single, living rent free among coeds, having returned from the Aloha Bowl in Hawaii courtesy of a mediocre football season under Galen Hall and about to head to the NCAA Tournament behind the erratic basketball brilliance of Dwayne Schintzius and Vernon Maxwell, life was good.
"Windy," which was what late Sun Sentinel sports editor Fred Turner would call me, "we need you to come home."
Three years earlier when the University of Miami reinstated its basketball program, I had requested consideration for that Hurricanes basketball beat. It was among the reasons I took the Gainesville assignment, willing to push through football season for the right to be berated at press conferences by then-Gators basketball coach Norm Sloan.
Hoops were calling again.
Tuesday starts Year 26 doing the same thing. Only it's never been the same, that inaugural season of John Shasky immediately heading to phone banks to call his wife to say he had landed safely not exactly akin to Dwyane Wade celebrating a championship with Gabrielle Union or walking into last June's championship celebration while Drake was being denied locker-room entry.
No, these are not Billy Thompson's Heat. One can again dare to slip off his shoes in the back rows of steerage.