SI Vault
Jack McCallum
December 19, 1988
By losing its first 16 games, the Miami Heat, one of the NBA's expansion teams, has set a record for futility
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December 19, 1988

Turn Up The Heat, Please

By losing its first 16 games, the Miami Heat, one of the NBA's expansion teams, has set a record for futility

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Like a high school kid collecting yearbook signatures, Scott Hastings, the backup center for the Miami Heat, circulated through the visiting locker room in Chicago Stadium Saturday night, imploring teammates and coaches to sign his stat sheet. Yes, for weeks the long tentacles of history had been reaching out for this juicy expansion tidbit, and when it was time, the Heat threw up its hands and said, "Take me." With Saturday's 111-88 loss to the Chicago Bulls, Miami fell to 0-16, breaking the NBA record for consecutive defeats at the start of a season.

"I'm going to frame this and put it in my bar," said Hastings, part owner of "Jocks 'n' Jills" in Atlanta. "People will look back on this someday."

And someday the Heat—which, along with the Charlotte Hornets, joined the NBA this season—will win a game too. Many thought that the first victory would come on Dec. 7 against the Sacramento Kings at the brand-new Miami Arena, where Heat fans can buy Cuban coffee and a rum drink called Frozen Miami Heat. All but a few of the arena's 15,008 seats were filled that night. Zev Bufman, one of the Heat's four principal owners, wore sneakers to the game so he could spring from his courtside seat onto the floor and "hug the whole team" when the final buzzer sounded. Local newspapers played up the fact that the Heat was actually favored by 2½ points.

Alas, Sacramento pulled off a 96-94 upset to hand Miami defeat No. 14—making its own record 3-12. Defeat No. 15 for Miami came on Friday night, courtesy of the visiting Denver Nuggets, who won 121-110. After Chicago, which got 38 points from Michael Jordan, contributed defeat No. 16, it was time for the Heat to say hello and goodbye to the 1949-50 Denver Nuggets, who were not around for the 1950-51 season; the wild and wonderful 1970-71 Cleveland Cavaliers, whose record after 30 games was 2-28; and, of course, those ever-popular objects of derision, the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who put together the worst season record (9-73) in NBA history. All three of these teams opened with 15 straight losses, but all won No. 16.

Like waves on Miami Beach, the Heat jokes are rolling in. David Letterman conferred official pop status on the Heat recently when the team was mentioned on his Top 10 list. That night it covered the reasons why Yasser Arafat should be allowed to come to America to address the U.N.: Reason No. 7—the P.L.O. leader's three-point shooting could help the Heat win a game. And Pat Williams, the general manager of the Orlando Magic—which will enter the league next season, along with the Minnesota Timberwolves—noted last week that the Heat is losing so frequently "their mascot should be a Democrat."

Watch that tongue, Pat—your day of reckoning is coming soon. Considering the Heat's performance to date, it seems fair to wonder what the NBA landscape will look like with four expansion stepchildren traipsing around it, spilling milk at Boston Garden and leaving crumbs on the Forum floor. "It's a non-issue," says NBA commissioner David Stern. "In the rush to see a trend, people fail to see where the Pistons, Bulls and Knicks, teams like that, were several years ago."

To underscore his faith in the Heat, which he says is destined to be a "very special" franchise. Stern last week awarded Miami the 1990 All-Star Game. By then the Heat will almost certainly have won a game. "Right now it looks dark for Miami," continues Stern, "but everything takes time. They have no place to go but up, and up they will go."

Terrific. And how much negative publicity about expansion will the league have endured by then? Will 10 wins, which would lift the Heat above the ignominy of the 1972-73 Sixers, make the season a success? Or does "up" mean the rarefied atmosphere in which the Hornets, winners of five games through last weekend, reside?

"None of us is putting a number on it," says guard Jon Sundvold, whom Miami got from the San Antonio Spurs in the expansion draft. "Sixteen straight, 20 straight, 30 straight losses by March or April, what's the difference? What's the impact for next season? None. We'll be in the lottery in any case, and our younger players will have improved by then. We'll be a much better team next season."

Heat fans have been patient, but how long will that last? The call of the boo-bird has been detected on at least two occasions in Miami Arena—during a 105-101 loss to San Antonio on Nov. 30 and on Friday night, when Hastings was singled out in the course of an 0-for-5 shooting performance against Denver. Even Bufman, who made his millions producing plays for Broadway ("The good thing about being in the NBA is that you can't close on opening night," he says), seemed a little antsy before the Denver game, to which he wore shoes.

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