The Miami Heat have only been around since the 1988-89 campaign, but they already have a rather rich history in the NBA.
Obviously, the Heat aren’t at the level of cornerstone franchises like the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers, but the fact that they have already won three championships in spite of being a hair over three decades old is pretty impressive.
Numerous great players have already come and go in Miami, and there will surely be more on the horizon.
Here are the five greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform thus far.
5. Tim Hardaway
I almost put Chris Bosh here, but I’m giving the edge to Tim Hardaway.
Hardaway helped pioneer the beginning of NBA success in South Beach, arriving via trade with the Golden State Warriors midway through the 1995-96 season and playing a major role in leading the Heat to six straight playoff appearances between 1996 and 2001.
Known for his ability to hit clutch shots, Hardaway was a deadly scorer in his heyday, possessing insane handles, blinding quickness and a smooth stroke from the perimeter.
As a matter of fact, in his first full season with Miami in 1996-97, Hardaway was a fringe MVP candidate after averaging 20.3 points and 8.6 assists per game.
Hardaway was very difficult to defend and was absolutely one of the ’90s players who would have success in today’s game.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal only spent three and a half seasons with the Heat, but he made such a significant impact that Miami actually retired his No. 32. Then again, the Heat also retired Michael Jordan’s No. 23 in spite of Jordan never playing for the franchise, so maybe that isn’t the best way to judge O’Neal’s success.
Either way, there is no doubting how much Shaq meant to Miami, as he helped lead the Heat to their first-ever NBA championship in 2006.
Yes, at that point, O’Neal was certainly past his prime, but there is no way Miami was winning the title that year without him, Dwyane Wade’s remarkable postseason performance notwithstanding.
Shaq initially arrived in South Beach during the summer of 2004 and instantly vaulted the Heat to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in his first season, changing the culture in the process.
Let’s just call it what it is: Wade wouldn’t have three rings without the Big Fella.
3. Alonzo Mourning
Part of me wanted to put Alonzo Mourning No. 2 on this list, especially considering how much Heat fans love him. However, the lack of hardware he achieved during his prime resulted in him getting the third spot.
While Hardaway may have been Miami’s best pure scorer in the ’90s, Mourning was the team’s most dominant player.
Zo originally joined the Heat via free agency during the summer of 1995. It didn’t take long for Pat Riley to pair Hardaway with the big man, and immediately, the two experienced success together.
Mourning was far from refined on the offensive end, but he still managed to average over 20 points per game in three of his seven seasons during his first stint in South Florida. He was also one of the NBA’s best defensive players, leading the league in blocks twice and overall representing an impenetrable force on the interior.
The Georgetown product then came back to the Heat during the 2004-05 campaign and proceeded to spend the next three and a half seasons in Miami, playing an important role in the club’s championship run in 2006.
It’s a shame that Mourning couldn’t win a ring with the Heat in his prime. If he did, he unquestionably would have been second on this list.
2. LeBron James
LeBron James spent four seasons with the Heat, and they were the four most exciting seasons in Miami’s history.
James linked up with Wade and Bosh during the summer of 2010, causing a frenzy in South Beach. It didn’t take long for the Heat to enjoy incredible success, as they made the NBA Finals during James’ first year with the club.
Of course, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks squashed LeBron’s dream in that first season, but not to worry. The Heat ended up making four straight Finals appearances overall during James’ tenure, winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013 before being thumped by the San Antonio Spurs in 2014.
The Spurs loss ended James’ short stay in Miami, as he went back home to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers that ensuing summer, but LeBron’s impact with the Heat remains indelible.
No, he will never be as beloved as his buddy Wade, but James won a pair of MVP awards and collected a couple of rings in Miami. One day, his No. 6 will surely hang in the rafters of AmericanAirlines Arena.
1. Dwyane Wade
James may have been the best talent to come through Miami, but there is no questioning that Wade had the best career with the Heat.
After being drafted by the franchise in 2003, Wade was the golden child. He won a championship as soon as his third season, putting forth one of the greatest NBA Finals performances in history. He made 12 straight All-Star appearances between 2005 and 2016. He won a scoring title in 2009. He helped hang a couple of more banners in 2012 and 2013.
Unfortunately, Wade did not spend his entire career in Miami, as he joined the Chicago Bulls for one season in 2016-17 and spent the early stages of the following season in Cleveland before being traded back to the Heat at the deadline that year.
But let’s be real: Wade is a Miami legend and icon, through and through.
Wade will definitely be in the Hall of Fame one day, and when he does go in, he will have countless stories to tell about his unforgettable run with the Heat.
Mourning and Hardaway may have paved the way, but Wade officially put Miami on the map as an elite NBA franchise.