Work in Sports
New York fans dilute Miami's home-court edge
Posted: Wednesday May 17, 2000 12:25 AM
MIAMI (AP) -- The volume varies little as the Miami Heat and New York Knicks trade baskets. There are jeers when Latrell Sprewell misses a shot, but also cheers when he scores. Heat mascot Burnie is sometimes upstaged by Spike Lee, conspicuously seated in the front row dressed in Knicks orange and blue from head to toe.
Such is the nature of the Heat's home-court advantage when they face the Knicks in the playoffs.
"It's probably the most unique place in the league from that standpoint," Miami coach Pat Riley said Tuesday. "I go around to all the others arenas, and I never see a divided contingent."
The Heat have learned to live with the split loyalties that will again be on display Wednesday night for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
History suggests the home court won't be much of a factor in settling the best-of-seven series, which is tied 2-all. Since 1997, the teams have split 12 playoff games in Miami, and the Knicks have won only five of nine in New York.
"It's not the fans," Heat guard Tim Hardaway said. "The Knicks just come in here confident, like we go into their arena confident that we can beat them there. It goes both ways."
Madison Square Garden is considered among the toughest places for visiting teams to play. But Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison, both former New Yorkers, are dismayed that thousands of fans at AmericanAirlines Arena cheer for the Knicks.
"New Yorkers are all over the place," Riley said. "Here it's a little more pronounced, because all of the New Yorkers who lost their savings in the stock market came down here to retire.
"Somehow we're going to have to win them over. If we could get unilateral, across-the-board yelling and screaming for us, it would make a little bit of a difference."
Any difference could be pivotal in such a closely contested rivalry. In the past four years, New York has won 19 times, Miami 18. In each of the past three years, the teams took their playoff series to the limit.
"Am I surprised we're tied 2-2? No," Heat forward P.J. Brown said. "I expected it to be this way. I think most everyone did."
"Nobody can pull away," Knicks forward Marcus Camby said. "It's a seesaw battle either way. We're a good defensive team; they're a good defensive team. It's just a matter of who can make the plays in the fourth quarter, basically."
"Game 5 is definitely pivotal," Miami center Alonzo Mourning said. "But the way things are going, it looks like we'll go to a Game 7." If the series goes the limit, two of the final three games will be in Miami -- which means little. New York won winner-take-all games in Miami each of the past two years. "We're confident we can win there," Sprewell said.
The Heat's move in January to a new $215 million arena hasn't created a more hostile atmosphere for games against New York. There are still plenty of Knicks jerseys in the stands, many worn by South Florida residents.
That bothers Arison, who cheered for the Knicks growing up in Queens.
"I don't mind if a fan comes here and has a John Starks uniform and all that stuff -- if he lives in New York," the Heat owner told the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale. "But when someone has been living in Miami for 20 years and doesn't give it up, I find that very unfortunate, very frustrating.
"There's nothing that would bring this community together more than us winning an NBA championship. Not to support that, when it would bring the community together, I think is silly."
It's a situation unique to the transient city of Miami. At Marlins games, thousands cheer for the Mets. At Dolphins games, fans show up in Jets jerseys.
But Riley agrees with Arison that transplanted New Yorkers should be rooting for the Heat.
"We're tracking them closely," Riley said. "If they have residence in Miami for more than three months, we've got a group going out to their house." He was joking. Riley knows the best way to win over the home fans is by winning.