The Miami Heat have stitched the identity on the front of their jersey: “Heat Culture.”
The franchise has displayed its mission statement on the lane of each side of its home court: “Hardest working. Best conditioned. Most professional. Unselfish. Toughest. Meanest. Nastiest team in the NBA.”
The Heat insist these phrases represent more than just fancy slogans and profound adjectives.
“It’s who we are. It’s what we do,” Miami guard Tyler Herro told Sportsnaut. “It’s what we go by. ‘Heat Culture’ is all I really know since I came into the league.”
During his five years with the Heat that have entailed two NBA Finals stints (2020, 2023) and a playoff appearance every season, is there an example that best exemplifies the organization’s ethos?
“Not really,” Herro said. “To be honest, I got nothing for you.”
After already winning an NBA championship in four Finals appearances with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2015-2018), Heat forward Kevin Love has understood how that slogan may elicit eyerolls from 29 other NBA teams. As Love noted, “it’s a word for everybody that triggers a number of things.”
Nonetheless, Love considers the philosophy to be authentic. Herro’s inability, or unwillingness, to cite an example doesn’t expose an empty platitude. Ironically, it suggests that the Heat embrace that philosophy partly because it roots in valuing their actions more than their words.
“You are your habits. Your habits are what make you great,” Love said. “That’s what we breed here: great habits. We work. We grind. And the results speak for themselves.”
They sure do. The Heat (20-15) enter Monday’s game against the Houston Rockets (18-16) a half-game out of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference partly because of that identity.
How their stars have embraced ‘Heat culture’
After eliminating the Celtics in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston found it necessary to acquire a versatile big man (Kristaps Porzingis) to complement its two primary scorers (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown) even at the expense of a proven defender and leader (Marcus Smart).
After losing to the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals as an eighth seed, the Heat tried to take advantage of Damian Lillard’s mutual interest. That did not happen amid Portland’s disinterest in Miami’s supporting cast, and the Heat’s refusal to part with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The Blazers then dealt Lillard to Milwaukee for its valued defender as a centerpiece (Jrue Holiday), whom Portland then shipped to Boston in a subsequent deal.
In related news, the Celtics (28-7) and Bucks (25-11) have an early edge over the Heat. So does the Philadelphia 76ers (23-12) with Joel Embiid playing at an MVP level and Tyrese Maxey elevating his game following the James Harden trade. Nonetheless, the Heat trail only closely behind.
They have relied on one of the NBA’s best scorers (Butler) and best defender (Adebayo) and two former All-Stars embracing complementary roles (Kyle Lowry, Love). They have also leaned on two dependable shooters that have grown as more complete players (Herro, Duncan Robinson) and an intriguing No. 18 pick (Jaime Jacquez Jr.).
Miami has still won five of its last eight games despite nursing injuries to Butler missing seven of those with a right toe injury. The Heat also have weathered absences with Haywood Highsmith (concussion), Caleb Martin (ankle) and Josh Richardson (back). Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has bristled at injury-related questions and stressed, “we have great depth.”
“A great talent that your team can develop is to figure out how to win while you’re dealing with all of the other stuff that everybody deals with in this association,” Spoelstra said. “You can still find ways to win and do it in different ways, figure out the rotation and figure out the moving parts and how consistently you can get to your identity. You can win games while you’re dealing with all of that.”
The many ways that ‘Heat Culture’ is seen around the team
Part of that stems from Heat Culture.
The organization monitor players’ endurance levels and dieting habits. It oversees in-depth practices that feature plenty of drill and conditioning work. The Heat view injuries as an opportunity for other players to showcase their worth. They look at their 19 starting lineups as tools to enhance chemistry instead of a hindrance.
Heat president Pat Riley has preached these philosophies during his entire 18-year tenure. Though the Heat’s NBA championship success stemmed from having a dynamic one-two punch in 2006 (Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade) and a Big Three in 2012 and 2013 (Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh), it also helped that Miami followed these tenets.
That approach still resonates. After the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season during the coronavirus outbreak, Robinson said the team hosted multiple Zoom calls a week so that players could complete weight-training and conditioning drills in front of each other virtually. Soon, those sessions turned into push-up competitions. The Heat attributed part of their work during the season pause for advancing to the NBA Finals in the bubble.
The Heat tried to maintain the same attitude with the same core featuring Butler, Adebayo, Herro and Robinson. With former Heat center Udonis Haslem retiring following a 20-year NBA career last season, Adebayo has become a more vocal leader partly to keep the team’s culture alive.
“Believe in one another. If all guys don’t believe in that goal of winning a championship, we’re not going to win,” Adebayo said. “So it’s about getting everybody on the page early, no matter if you’re starting or coming off the bench or a two way. It matters if you can believe in that we can get this thing better.”
That belief has turned into actions.
The Heat rank second in 3-point shooting (38.8%), thanks to Robinson (43.4%) and Herro (42.9%). When healthy, Butler has stayed dependable as an intense competitor and proven scorer, including a game-winning shot last month against Chicago. Adebayo could become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate again with his positional versatility. Love could become a Sixth Man of the Year candidate with his consistent scoring versatility and rebounding. Lowry has stayed durably and steady with his playmaking and defense. Jacquez has ranked fourth in his rookie class in points per game (13.8).
“Guys are allowing me to play my game and instill confidence in me to go out there and trust what I can do,” Jacquez said. “That’s probably why I’ve had the success because we have a great group of guys that are encouraging me and giving me confidence.”
Will that be enough to win an NBA title, let alone return to the Finals? Who knows. Once again, though, the Heat have the right culture in place to stay in the mix regardless of their health and personnel.
“Our strength is in our numbers,” Love said. “When we’re whole, we’re very tough to beat. Even now with guys out, we’re always going to fight.”