Miami Heat: The 1996-97 Heat were one of the best to never win an NBA title

Miami Heat Alonzo Mourning (JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
Miami Heat Alonzo Mourning (JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images) /

Long before the days of the Heatles, we could have seen Jordan-era end at the hands of an unexpected foe – the 1996-97 Miami Heat 

Do you remember when the Miami Heat had its chance to shock the NBA world and dethrone the Chicago Bulls in 1997?

No? Well, that’s okay, because to be honest, no one really does. Once upon a time, there was a realistic chance of this happening.

Just a mere eight years since its inception in the league, the Miami Heat had only three seasons above .500. In 1994 and 1996, the team went a pedestrian 42-40 which granted them an expected first-round exit.

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That other season above .500? Oh yeah, the Heat went a mind-boggling 61-21 en route to the Eastern Conference Finals. More on that in a minute.

How did it happen that a plucky franchise that could do nothing more than break even on the season be the doorstep of an NBA Finals appearance?

The answer only took one year to figure out.

In the fall of 1995, Pat Riley spurned the New York Knicks to head to South Beach. A few months later, the Heat traded for Alonzo Mourning and that cemented the interior presence in a league where big men dominated the game.

Fast forward to the 1996 trade deadline and the Heat trade for the crossover maestro, Tim Hardaway. Miami now had their two cornerstones and had sights set on the following season to make some noise.

The 1996 offseason brought in former Phoenix Suns sharpshooter Dan Majerle and young big man PJ Brown. Another trade deadline steal for the Heat allowed them to acquire Jamal Mashburn, thus solidifying a team with toughness and finesse.

Miami was one of three teams on the season that eclipsed 60 wins (Chicago and Utah being the other two.) However, despite Mourning and Hardaway being all-stars and having a deep rotation, the playoffs seemed to be a bit of a struggle.

After fending off a Shaq-less Orlando Magic in five games, the Heat took on Riley’s old Knicks team. This slugfest of a series capped off by a game seven duel between Hardaway and Patrick Ewing punched the Heat’s ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals where the 69-13 Bulls were waiting for them.

Chicago made quick work of their playoff opponents and appeared to be well-rested and took a commanding 3-0 series lead. The plucky Heat was able to keep their Finals chances alive by squeaking out a Game 4 win, only to lose Game 5 on the road.

It begs to note that the series average was only separated by nine points; Games 1, 2 and four were separated by exactly seven points.

Sure, Heat fans only had to wait for the Dwyane Wade era to reap the rewards of championship glory, but if Miami makes a run at the Finals and is able to keep everyone together for sustainable success, would they be bad enough to draft Wade in 2003.

Next. NBA Mock Draft: LaMelo Ball headlines a class of unknown prospects. dark

Much is said of how dominant the Chicago Bulls were in the 1990s and rightfully so. However, like the 1997 Miami Heat, we take for granted what the rest of the NBA had to offer.