With the Miami Heat stopped short of the supernatural heights playfully predicted by LeBron James four summers ago, the question now comes whether the good old days have come and gone for South Florida NBA fans or if this is just a pause in the championship proceedings.
No telling at this point, not with the Big Three’s contract roulette game having just commenced.
There are spooky flashbacks, though, to the death of the Miami Dolphins’ dynastic run some 40 years ago. Consider these creepy connections, if you dare.
Step One: The Dolphins reach their first Super Bowl in 1971, sparking a four-year run of success that the team has yet to rival. Jump ahead to the 2010-11 season and it’s the Heat beginning a four-year period of uninterrupted championship contention, with LeBron and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh reaching the NBA Finals in their first collaborative effort.
Great stuff, but both seasons end in lopsided losses to teams from Dallas, the Cowboys and the Mavericks.
Step Two: Perfection for the 1972 Dolphins. The 2011-12 Heat season is a blast, too, with Miami thumping Oklahoma City 4-1 in the NBA Finals and the Big Three operating in perfect harmony.
Greater stuff, causing analysts to wonder in each case, “Can anybody beat these guys?”
Step Three: The Dolphins are really rolling now, stringing together back-to-back Super Bowl titles. The symmetry continues here with the 2012-13 Heat, who go back-to-back as NBA champions.
Magnificent, the monotony.
Step Four: All revved up for a three-peat, the 1974 Dolphins are rocked by a first-round playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders. Likewise, the 2013-2014 Heat hit a shocking dead end, getting rolled by San Antonio by the widest point differential ever recorded in the NBA Finals.
Step Five: Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield and Jim Kiick leave Miami for big-money guarantees in the new World Football League, a strictly business decision. The Dolphins miss the playoffs the next three seasons and require another eight to reach the Super Bowl again.
Only here is the correlation with the current Heat situation incomplete because LeBron hasn’t made his decision on opting out or in, but mountains of money will be offered him to bolt, just as it was for that long-ago Dolphins “Big Three.”
So there it is. A peculiar pattern involving different franchises in different sports at different times. To make more of it than that is to turn Area Code 305 into Area 51.
For those of us who lived here in the 1970s, however, the lessons of the Dolphin glory years are as strong as ever.
Dynasties have a way of disappearing in a flash, for one thing. Better savor every second of every title chase and championship banner, because even with solid and long-term leadership (Don Shula, Pat Riley), an endless number of contractual and physical and psychological variables constantly threaten to blow the whole thing up.
Also, four years is a long time to keep the bandwagon rolling in this market. South Florida is as diverse as a community can be, culturally and economically and, taking all the snowbirds into account, migrationally, too. If any one team can keep the whole lot of us interested for very long, much less emotionally invested, it’s a miracle.
Those old-time Dolphins had the advantage of being Miami’s only pro team, sort of like the Thunder in Oklahoma City today, plus a bonus blue-collar appeal that made them highly relatable.
The glamour of LeBron and his independence run contrary to that. Wherever he stands now, the contract says that one sneaker could always be halfway out the door. After the ugliness of that Spurs’ smackdown, it’s a provision that might as well be typed in all caps.
More and more, it feels like this particular image of hoop heaven has nearly run its course in Miami. What’s the only absolute difference between this Heat team and Shula’s Super Bowl champs?
A warning bell that won’t stop clanging, even if the Big Three partnership remains intact in Miami for another year.