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Fans in Downtown Miami are celebrating a Miami Heat Championship. Steve Litz reports
With their second straight NBA championship and third straight Finals appearance, the Miami Heat have cemented their place as the top dog in the South Florida sports landscape. Once a football town where nothing mattered more than the Dolphins, Miami is the center of the basketball universe.
That may sound like sacrilege to anyone who can remember the Dan Marino era, but the numbers back it up. The Heat have not just won championships, they have turned their games into the place to be. Musicians, actors, superstar athletes, and even Marino have become fixtures in the courtside section of the AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Dolphins, after years of selling out SunLife Stadium, lagged every other NFL team in attendance last season (they sold 76% of available tickets during the 2012 season, dead last in the league). Even if young quarterback Ryan Tannehill and second-year coach Joe Philbin return Miami to the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2008, they can't match the drawing power of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
As long as the Big Three are making buckets on Biscayne Bay, they will be the only franchise that matters in South Florida. And unlike the Miami Marlins (the only local team to win a championship between the Dolphins' last Super Bowl appearance in the 1980s and the Heat's first title in 2006), the Heat have been able to sustain South Florida's post-championship fervor.
Even during the doldrums between Miami's 2006 championship and the arrival of James and Bosh in 2010, the Heat remained one of the top draws in the NBA. In 2007/08, Miami went 15-67, but averaged 19,463 fans per home game. That dipped to 17,730 in the season before the Big Three joined forces, but that was better than 15 other NBA teams.
But even for the Heat, fortunes can turn quickly. Just as the Dolphins' popularity waned after Dan Marino retired, so to can the Heat's when the Big Three part ways.
The Heat probably won't make many major roster changes this offseason, but in the summer of 2014 James, Wade, and Bosh can all opt out of the final two years of their contracts. 2014 is probably the farthest thing from Heat president Pat Riley's mind at the moment, but he surely knows how quickly South Florida can turn on a losing franchise.
For now, though, the Heat's status as kings of South Florida sports is secure, and no one can take that away from them.