Becoming a Basketball Town

Mark Stallworth

This is the city that boasts the undefeated and only perfect team in NFL history with the 1972 Miami Dolphins, and an area that produces the most and elite NFL players. But we’re now on the cusp of becoming a basketball town.

What happened this past weekend reflects the reason why things are starting to shift, with the crowning of Division II Men’s Basketball National Champions Nova Southeastern University and the first Final Four appearances by both the University of Miami Hurricanes and the Florida Atlantic University Owls. There’s also the announcement that Dwyane Wade has been selected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2023.

Dwyane Wade, Hall of Famer

Rewind the clocks to 2003, when the Miami Heat drafted Dwyane Wade to its organization. That decision alone changed the face of South Florida sports.

Wade, who is one of the most important pieces in Heat history, can surely be deemed partly responsible for Miami transitioning from a football to a basketball town.

Wade is a 13-time NBA All-Star (2005-16, 2019); an eight-time All-NBA team member, including a pair of first-team accolades (2009-10); and the 2006 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.

“We are all so proud of Dwyane as a first-ballot recipient, selected to be enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. What an honor! It is EARNED and DESERVED!!” said Miami Heat president Pat Riley in a written statement.

Over the course of his 16-year NBA career, Wade has won three NBA championships (2006, 2012-13), earned NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors on three occasions (2005, 2009-10), led the league in scoring with 30.2 points per game in 2009, and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2004.

He is also the Heat’s all-time leader in numerous categories, including points, assists, steals, field goals and games played. On the international stage, Wade’s earned two Olympic medals, highlighted by taking home the gold in the 2008 Games in Beijing as the leading scorer on the “Redeem Team.”

The Chicago native played collegiately at Marquette University and led the Golden Eagles to a Final Four berth in 2003, highlighted by a triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) during the Midwest Regional final against top-seeded Kentucky. Wade was also recognized as a member of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team in 2021, and had his No. 3 jersey retired by Marquette in 2007 and the Heat in 2020.

Joining Wade in the Class of 2023 are Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon, along with former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano, the 1976 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team, former Purdue coach Gene Keady, former Texas A&M women’s coach Gary Blair and Gene Bess – who won 1,300 games as a junior college coach at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

South Florida at the Final Four

In their first Final Four appearances, the East Region champions Florida Atlantic Owls and Midwestern Region champions Miami Hurricanes experienced a short-lived weekend in Houston.

The Hurricanes’ time in the Final Four was a blur, as the team was steamrolled by the University of Connecticut Huskies and fell 59-72 in the semifinals, while the Owls lost by a buzzer-beater to San Diego State University 71-72. The dream of an all-South Florida national championship will be on hold for at least another year.

But the exposure that the Final Four provided to both programs will be important for years to come, as both have now entered national prominence in the college hoops arena.

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