To be completely honest, rivalries today pale in comparison to that of many years ago. That may not exactly be a bad thing, but there’s no denying that the animosity between teams has somehow dwindled in the buddy-buddy world of today’s NBA. Even for the Heat.
Nevertheless, this has not prevented us from reliving some of the rivalries that the Heat have faced through the years. The Heat are a pretty young franchise, having only been established in 1988, so there’s definitely no Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics magnitude of rivalry to expect. Then again, the Heat have five fierce rivals that will always present an interesting matchup whenever Miami faces off with any of these teams below.
San Antonio Spurs
This one’s relatively recent. The rivalry between the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs roots from the time they met each other in back-to-back Finals in 2013 and 2014.
This was, of course, during the famed Big 3 era of the Heat. LeBron James and company were coming off their first title from 2012, and during the 2012-13 season, they were set out to prove that they were not a one-hit wonder. In the Finals, they would face off against the Spurs in what turned out to be an epic seven-game series. San Antonio had their own Big 3 in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, but they were eventually outdueled by the Heat, as Miami successfully defended their title, en route to back-to-back championships.
As fate would have it, these two teams would find themselves in the exact same spot a year later. Only this time, it was the Spurs who would come out victorious in the 2014 Finals. A 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard won the Finals MVP trophy that year, establishing himself as one of the biggest rising stars in the league from that point on.
The loss during the 2014 Finals also pretty much ended the Big 3 era in Miami, with LeBron making a triumphant return to his beloved Cleveland Cavaliers a few months later.
With the Finals series tied 1-1 between these two teams, there will always be a narrative as to which side will prove to be the better one regardless of a significant change in personnel.
Much like the Heat-Spurs rivalry, Miami’s animosity against the Dallas Mavericks also stems from a couple of Finals appearances against these two highly-competitive sides.
In 2006, a Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal-led Heat team won their first title in franchise history. This came at the expense of the Mavs, who had the great Dirk Nowitzki at the helm in what was arguably one of his best seasons with the team.
Five years later, Dallas would extract their revenge in the most painful of fashions. In the summer of 2010, LeBron and Chris Bosh infamously signed with the Heat to form one of the best superteams in league history. They were pegged as the ultimate villains all season long, but they were able to live up to the high expectations bestowed upon them prior to the season. That was until they met the Mavs in the 2011 NBA Finals.
After finishing the regular season with 58 wins, the Heat went through the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics, and the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs, losing only one game in each of the three series. They were the heavy favorites to take the crown, but simply put, the Mavs weren’t having it. Dallas ended up upsetting the Heat, 4-2 in the Finals, as they broke the hearts of the Miami faithful.
Ask any Heat fan and they’ll agree that that was one of the most heartbreaking moments in franchise history, and as a result, there will always be an underlying loathing towards the Dallas Mavericks.
The feud between the Heat and the Chicago Bulls dates back to the late 1990’s. Miami was one of the many victims of the Michael Jordan era of the Chicago Bulls, with the Alonzo Mourning-led Heat falling against Chicago in no less than three playoff matchups between 1992 and 1997. To make matters worse, Miami had only won once against the Bulls in all three playoff meetings.
In 2006, however, Dwyane Wade would ensure that the Heat would achieve their long-awaited retribution against the Bulls. Miami eliminated Chicago in the second round of the playoffs, marking the first time they had topped the Bulls in any playoff series in the 17 years of Miami’s existence.
This rivalry would reignite during Derrick Rose’s time with the Bulls, as he had numerous epic battles against LeBron’s Heat.
At one point in the early 2010’s the rivalry between the Heat and the Boston Celtics was considered to be the most heated rivalry in the entire NBA.
It all began in 2010 when Boston handily defeated Miami in the first round of the playoffs, 4-1. This prompted the Heat to form the Big 3, with James and Bosh joining the team that same summer.
As destiny would have it, the Heat were pitted against the Celtics in the 2011 playoffs, and once again in 2012. Both would result in a series victory for Miami, and in the process indirectly ending the superteam era of the Celtics.
This rivalry would take a turn for the worse when Ray Allen — a pivotal piece of Boston’s historic championship run in 2008 — decided to sign with the Heat. For what was deemed as an ultimate act of betrayal, the animosity between Allen and his former Celtics teammates in Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett reportedly lives on to this very day. The same can be said between the rivalry between the Heat and the Celtics.
New York Knicks
As far as rivalries go, there’s no denying that the new York Knicks are Miami’s biggest rival in the NBA.
In 1995, then long-time Knicks coach Pat Riley made a surprise move by resigning as the team’s head coach — via fax. His reason? He had agreed to become the president and head coach of the Heat. It was a very controversial move, as the Heat were accused by the Knicks of tampering. The issue was later on settled, with Miami having to send over their first-round pick to New York as well as $1 million in cash. The Riley matter may have ended on paper, but the fierce rivalry between these two sides had only just begun.
Between 1997 and 2000, Miami would face off against the Knicks for four consecutive years in the playoffs. New York had the Heat’s number, winning three out of four of those series. All four playoffs matchups went down the wire, though, requiring the final game of the series to decide the winner. These series had it all — including two brawls in 1997 and 1998.