National Basketball Association
It's hard not to love Miami Heat's underdog story
National Basketball Association

It's hard not to love Miami Heat's underdog story

Updated May. 30, 2023 12:48 p.m. ET

The Miami Heat are in the NBA Finals – so let's go, honest responses only, hands up please if you saw this coming.

OK, Jimmy Butler, I see you over there. You were right, and I'm sure it feels pretty darn good. No one else? That's fine, me neither.

This time last year, Butler sat nursing the sting of a Game 7 home defeat to the Boston Celtics and promised that redemption would come. Few believed him then, and certainly any public faith had long since evaporated by the time the Heat stumbled into the 8-seed on the back of a 44-38 record this season that saw them score the fewest points in the NBA.

[Next up for the Boston Celtics: Two massive, future-defining decisions]


And yet here we are, one fairytale run later, as a squad accidentally manufactured to become perhaps the most enjoyable story in sports right now, has survived its way through a postseason gauntlet not for the faint of heart.

Game 7s are their own animal, and the Heat turned the tables on the Celtics on Monday night, as the Eastern Conference finals came to its conclusion. Erik Spoelstra's group avoided becoming the first team in NBA history to squander a 3-0 advantage, and did so because they fought harder, wanted it more, stayed calmer and responded better to the finality of the opportunity.

They also, a decade removed from a title triumph by a star-packed Heat team spawned when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, did it with a bunch of guys given up on at one or more moments in time.

It's hard not to like that.

Even Butler, the talisman and heartbeat, is a kind of underdog among superstars, not always the first to get his due. Neither does Bam Adebayo and his physical presence, especially for his defensive excellence.

Heat rout Celtics in Game 7, advance to 2023 NBA Finals

They were surrounded by the likes of Caleb Martin, undrafted, Gabe Vincent, undrafted, Max Strus, undrafted, and Duncan Robinson, not only undrafted but having begun his college career at Williams, a fine landing point for an elite scholar but an unusual one for a future NBA 3-point marksman.

The Heat might have had some fortune in the first round with their upset of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks assisted somewhat by Giannis Antetokounmpo's back contusion. They've since done us all a favor, for can you imagine how chatty New York fans would've gotten if the Knicks had gone deep and how Boston's irreverent faithful would have chirped about a historic series comeback?

On the other side of that, you’re never quite sure how much Miami folks even love their own team. It is a curious relationship; South Florida attendances wax and wane and is it overly harsh to say the locals aren’t particularly interested when their teams aren’t good? There’s a lot going on in Miami, and always some place that’s fun to be seen at, so sports sometimes drifts low on the priority list.

The Heat are currently getting adopted by countless others around the country, at least until the end of the NBA Finals, in which they'll clash with the Denver Nuggets and perhaps the league's best player – Nikola Jokicstarting Thursday.

It was a decade ago that some Heat fans drifted into the Florida night to get a jump on traffic when LeBron and his talented South Beach friends trailed to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Finals. When word reached them of Ray Allen's iconic 3-pointer and the resultant overtime, they sprinted back to the arena, only to find the doors locked.

These are heady times again, not only with this Heat team but also the NHL's Florida Panthers, another 8-seed, yet having made it to the Stanley Cup Finals with a barnstorming run against the odds. Busy times in South Florida. Busy, in no small part, because the Heat got busy believing in themselves.

The NBA Finals won't have the brand name cache of Celtics/Lakers, but you can guarantee this one will be scrapped out with ferocity. The Nuggets were sensational during the regular season and have answered every sneering query the doubters have posed of them since. Yes, Jokic is more than tough enough to handle a rough-and-tumble series. Yes, Jamal Murray is not just back but maybe even better than before that nasty injury.

There is a lot to like about Denver too, but it is fair to say that the Heat will have the neutral hearts here.

"I'm just confident," Butler told reporters. "I know the work that we all put into it, so I know what we're capable of. Nobody is satisfied. We haven't done anything. We don't play just to win the Eastern Conference; we play to win the whole thing."

The Heat have been solely focused on their own thing, their own mission. But while doing it, they've become a team worth falling in love with.

They have a minute to regroup – before it will be time to try to write one last chapter in a stirring story.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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