The Miami Heat’s commitment to winning starts at the top.
It is called “Heat Culture,” and it starts at the top with the team’s President Pat Riley.
Heat Culture is described as the “hardest working, best conditioned, most professional, unselfish, toughest, meanest, nastiest team in the NBA.” Miami does an impressive job marketing it on t-shirts also.
When the NBA season resumed in Orlando in the NBA bubble, there was a feeling the Heat were a team built for the bubble. On the defensive and offensive ends of the floor, Heat Culture is evident on the team.
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In eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks, the team favored representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals; there were whispers of “Heat Culture” in the bubble.
“Our team was very disciplined in the bubble, very together, the chemistry was great,” Riley said. “Spo and the staff, everybody up there that had to do things for three months, kept it together.”
Heat star and leader Jimmy Butler emphasized consistently in the bubble he was not surprised by the success leading them to the Finals. Heat Culture is why he took his talents to Miami; moreover, he needed it in his life when making his decision to sign with Miami.
“I thank God that he came here,” Riley shared. “I want to throw out credit to Dwyane Wade, father prime, a player close to my heart; he helped us selling Jimmy.”
Butler played in his first NBA Finals. The Heat came up short against the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Eventually, Butler became the second player in a Finals series to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, joining his opponent LeBron James who did it in 2016.
James experienced Heat Culture for four seasons and became a two-time champion.
“Culture is defined as an environment in which people understand they have to share in a vision, shared goals, shared thoughts, it is not always easy, but you have to have an environment in some shape or form in which everyone can flourish,” Riley said.
Riley has won an NBA Championship as a player, an assistant coach, head coach, and executive. By all means, you count the rings.
“Our culture harkens back to my playing days; Bill Sharman told me that if I wanted to make the team in 1971, that I had to be the best-conditioned athlete in training camp,” Riley added. “He said to me if you are the best-conditioned athlete in training camp, you are not going to play either. I just to make sure I know, I have somebody who is in great shape; I can put out on the court, take a hard foul or guard the other team’s best player, but Pat, you probably won’t play. If you are not in the best shape, you probably not going to make the team.”
The Heat made it to the Finals for the first time since James took his talents to Cleveland. There is rarely credit given to Riley; however, he is not looking for praise. Riley kept the team from crumbling to a struggling product on the court. He faced rebuilding a roster after James’ departure, Chris Bosh ending his playing career because of blood clots, and a relationship with Dwyane Wade healed for the better while maintaining quality basketball with his executive decisions.
“That’s what we have here; it is the hardest working, best conditioned, most professional, unselfish, toughest, the nastiest team in the league,” Riley added. “I believe in that; I believe in it to the core. I don’t think you can get the best out of players or the players the best out of themselves unless they are in world-class shape. This is their profession, their livelihood; they will take care of their families and their future. How can you not be the best-conditioned athlete on the court in this kind of environment in the NBA? To me, that is just academic.”
In the NBA, you are either competing for a title or blowing the entire roster up. Riley continues to keep the Heat competitive. That attracted Butler to Miami along with the Heat Culture pitch. He has always swung big and aims high. Moreover, the fact that he has pieces on a roster for leverage speaks volumes to fans off the court who respect his decision making, even if it appears questionable.
“Our culture started in 1995 when I came here, but also is a vision of Mickey Arison and the Arison family and how they run their business at Carnival and how they wanted their business to be run here,” Riley shared. “Our culture is real; our staff believes in it.”
The New York Knicks, for example, have the market draw, Madison Square Garden as a venue, a historic franchise. But they don’t have Heat Culture. The largest fish they have caught is possibly Julius Randle recently. The team is the opposite of winning. The Brooklyn Nets, who share the same city, are seen as investing in their roster. Riley invests in the roster, builds a winner to maintain competitiveness to draw that big fish. Riley will never blow it up or start from scratch. Heat culture is the icing.
“It is not easy; it is always sad when everyone talks about this is not for everybody,” Riley shared. “This is for everybody; if you want to get the most out of your career, we can help you do that.”
One eye-catching problem is he devalues draft picks to a degree. He is continually trading picks away. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro were his best picks, and Josh Richardson getting honorary mention since LeBron left downtown Miami.
“The culture is big for us; it is there it is embedded,” Riley shared. “We don’t have to sell it; it sells itself. It is an organizational thing; I am proud of it, and I proud we get identified for it.”
In the NBA Bubble, Butler opened his coffee shop, which he operated out of his hotel room using his French press coffee brewer, charging $20 per cup. A Heat culture t-shirt can cost you $30 online. Both are not for everyone.