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Nice Little Heat Article


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Posted on Sun, Apr. 18, 2004


A fitting soundtrack for the season? `Ode to Joy'






What is joy worth?


Even in sports, where we have numbers and measurements for everything, how do you quantify something as abstract as that?


Because the Miami Heat clearly has magic (another immeasurable) in its locker room. These players like and respect each other, spend an inordinate amount of time laughing, and have a chemistry so uncommon and unselfish that even the veterans marvel at never having seen anything like it. But how exactly is that going to help them when and if they run up against oversized Ben Wallace and all his fast-twitch muscle fiber?


The frat-house Marlins. That's where the Heat goes for inspiration, and for proof of just how far a happy-happy-joy-joy underdog can ride this kind of magic carpet. And there are certain story-line similarities: baby-faced Dwyane Wade playing the role of Miguel Cabrera; discarded, questioned Lamar Odom as Ivan Rodriguez; burst-on-the-scene Rafer Alston injecting energy and enthusiasm like Dontrelle Willis; Udonis Haslem as scrappy overachiever Juan Pierre; and basketball lifer Stan Van Gundy as frumpy Jack McKeon.


Now we all just have to watch, beginning tonight against New Orleans, to see who grows up before our eyes to become Josh Beckett.




One problem with this dream scenario, though:


This isn't baseball.


You are flipping a coin once the postseason starts in that slippery sport. Not so much in basketball, where the teams with the most talent and experience tend to win in the playoffs and the infant underdogs become speed bumps, not champions.


That's not an opinion. That's history. Chance and bounces and the fundamental foundation of baseball and its arbitrary postseason keeps Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez and all of the Boston Red Sox from becoming champions, but Michael Jordan can hog the throne for himself just about every time he is favored to do so.


In other words, teams with 42-40 records such as Miami, no matter how hot and unselfish and together, tend to get their feel-good extinguished pretty promptly this time of year. Physical as playoff basketball is, that feel-good tends to rather literally get beaten out of you.


Which isn't to say these charming Heat players aren't capable of surprising us. The more unlikely something is, the more fun it is to witness. It wouldn't be a miracle if you were tapping your foot and your watch while waiting for it to hurry up and happen already.


Van Gundy is worried, of course. That's part of his job description. Misery and Angst are the children of Coaching. So the first time he heard all that laughter coming out of his locker room, he wondered to himself, ''Am I doing something wrong? Are they too loose?'' The Pat Riley disciple hadn't seen this much joy at work before, and it concerned him because the coach is taught that the glass is neither half full nor half empty but rather just full enough with poisonous liquid to kill everyone in the room if we're all not careful.


''I can't quantify what the enjoyment means, but I know this much: It adds energy, and it can get you through the tough times,'' Van Gundy says. ``I can't give you a number of points or wins, but you can feel it.''




Van Gundy has noticed something this season. When he arrives at practice, the players aren't sitting around, waiting for him to tell them to start. They're already up, moving, working. It can make all the difference in the world, enjoying what you do for a living.


Brian Grant can tell you. His numbers have never been so bad. His injuries and pain have never been worse. And he has never enjoyed basketball more.


''The locker room didn't have no life last year,'' he said after Saturday's practice.


But funny guys Odom, Alston and John Wallace were added to the mix, and the laughter started echoing, insults passing for intimacy in the language of the locker room.


''Those guys could make you laugh at a funeral,'' Grant says. ``I don't know how to joke. I'm no good at it. I'm not funny. Eddie [Jones]is not funny. I used to get upset by guys cracking on me. It was easy for guys to cross my line. But I can accept anything anyone around here says about me because I know how much we care about each other.''


But what is this worth, Brian?


''It's invaluable,'' he says. ``You can't put a price tag on it.''


Maybe this doesn't mean anything.


But maybe, beginning tonight, we'll see that it does.


Nice article and I liked it how he compared some of the players to the Marlins 2003 WS team.




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