What a spring it was for Miami’s two winter sports teams, right?
Not only did the Heat and Panthers qualify for the finals of their respective professional sports leagues, but they both had to do so after entering the playoffs as the eighth (or lowest) seed in their conference.
The Heat had to survive that strange play-in tournament the NBA now has for its 7-10 seeds, while the Panthers benefited from the Pittsburgh Penguins' inability to defeat two of the worst teams in the NHL in the final days of the regular season.
After qualifying for the postseason, both the Heat and Panthers then won three best-of-series and knocked off the top seeds in their respective conferences along the way.
Each team indeed lost in the finals, a mock-worthy offense in today’s zero-sum sports world, but that had to be a magical couple of months for the truly diehard sports fans in South Florida.
Heck, it had to be an incredible time for casual sports fans; I’m talking about the folks who may not live or die for their teams but are proud to see them represent their city on a grand stage.
As a Pittsburgher and Pittsburgh sports fan, I’m a little jealous of the spring that the people of Miami had. Can you imagine waking up every day knowing you are going to see either a huge NBA playoff game or a crucial NHL postseason clash?
Pittsburgh is likely never going to have an NBA franchise. So unless soccer explodes or they invent another sport, the best I can hope for is a World Series title in the fall followed by a Super Bowl victory in the winter (the 1979 Pirates and Steelers) or a Super Bowl title in the winter followed by a Stanley Cup championship in the spring (the 2008 Steelers and 2008/2009 Penguins).
The South Florida sports fans I’m really jealous of are the kids; you remember being a young sports fan, right? It’s such a great time. You’re not cynical. You’re not jaded. You’re not denying yourself the pleasure of watching the NBA because “Basketball was much better when it was Bird vs. Magic!” You’re not struggling with the notion of being in Miami and supporting “a bunch of Canadians!”
You’re just a kid who can appreciate a three-pointer just as much as a one-timer. You idolize both Jimmy Butler and Matthew Tkachuk equally. In fact, you pretend you’re each one while playing both sports with your friends.
Heck, at that age, you might feel more civic pride than the adults, those old cynics who stopped caring after that one strike/lockout/anthem protest.
I’ve witnessed a lot of things in the 40-plus years that I’ve been following the Pittsburgh sports scene, but I’d probably trade one of the championships I celebrated just to be a kid in Miami in 2023.
Congrats on a great postseason run, Miami fans.
Sure, you may have come up short in each final, but you got to enjoy something very few sports fans ever will.