No one can say for certain when the Miami Heat’s 21-and-counting streak of consecutive victories is going to end. But everyone knows when and where and against whom it started: a 100-85 cruise over the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre on Feb. 3 that the Heat broke open in the second half to bump their record to 30-14.
Miami is back there Sunday, clearing a much gaudier 50-14 through customs this time. Unless the Raptors, who haven’t beaten a playoff-bound team in nearly a month, pull off something thoroughly unexpected, the Heat will tie the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the NBA’s second-longest winning streak. From No. 22, it’s a clear path – 11 games (seven on the road) and 10 opponents (Charlotte twice) – to the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. For perspective on its durability, that 33-game streak of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West & Co. has lasted longer than the span between Babe Ruth‘s 714th home run and Henry Aaron‘s 715th.
|Heat upcoming schedule|
After the matinee in Toronto this time, win or lose, Miami will promptly wing its way to Boston for Monday’s game against the Celtics. Last time, though, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of them stuck around Ontario several hours longer, an unusual deviation from the standard NBA itinerary that led to an unscripted moment and, ever since, these extraordinary results.
What was so special? Shane Battier gave his “famous” speech.
That’s how Wade refers to it, anyway. And it’s moving up the charts fast to rank with the best of Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi and Norman Dale in terms of sports impact.
Remember, Feb. 3 wasn’t any ol’ Sunday afternoon. It was Super Bowl Sunday, pitting the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers, the No. 1 must-see sports event of the calendar for most red-blooded U.S. sports fans. Yet here the Heat sat up in Toronto, scheduled to fly home when they should have been sprawled and nacho-ed out on multiple couches like so many of their fellow citizens. Feeling a little cranky about it, too.
“We talked about how not being able to watch the Super Bowl,” veteran guard Ray Allen recalled Friday night in Milwaukee. “it wasn’t ‘the American Way.’ We were all disappointed because there was so much hype going into it. We wanted to see the game. The organization made it happen.”
Miami management arranged for the team to watch the game (Ravens 34, 49ers 31) at a sports bar in downtown Toronto. Good times flowed, even with the Heat facing a back-to-back wrap-up against Charlotte the next night. It was on the bus to the airport that Battier was moved to get to speechifying.
“It was in the spirit of the Super Bowl – a great game,” Battier said. “In the spirit of teamwork and camaraderie. … We have a saying around this club, ‘Touching the people.’ I was giving the people a soulful touch. It’s metaphorical. It’s very Zen-like.”
The more Battier was pressed for details, though, the cagier he became. As if revealing the content of his verbiage might sap it of the success it has generated, however coincidental it might be.
“You have to ask my teammates about the speech,” the veteran role player said, smiling and laughing. “I can’t give the same speech twice. It’s like a rainbow. Once it’s gone it’s gone. Let it be. That’s the beauty of it.”
Fair enough. So what was the speech about?
“Just touch the people,” forward Udonis Haslem said. “People want to be touched. Sometimes it’s going to be uncomfortable. Sometimes they might get carried away. But touch the people. The fans. And enjoy these moments, because they’re going to come to an end some day.”
Oh, that speech…
It might seem a little disconnected, that a topic like “touching the people” would translate into the third-longest winning streak in league history. That a Kumbaya, I-love-you-man hoot on a charter bus might play a role in propelling the Heat to nothing but victories for the next 41 days and counting.
But it could be one of those “if the Miami players believe it made some difference, then it did” sort of things.
“That just brought us closer,” Haslem said. “We were never separated. We’ve always been connected as a group. But I think, definitely, doing things off the court only helps the relationships on the court.”
Said Allen: “Whether you want to say it’s coincidental or not, anytime you have an opportunity to have some team-bonding and building off the floor, it always bodes well in your favor. Especially throughout the long season. You take every little break and opportunity you can.”
It doesn’t hurt that, in Battier, the Heat have one of the NBA’s most coveted “glue” players, a wily vet who does whatever is needed in the moment, no matter how grimy or thankless the task. During the streak, apart from his defense, the 6-foot-8 forward from Duke has averaged 8.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists, while shooting 52.8 percent from 3-point range. All his numbers are up compared to the season overall.
“He’s a big part of everything we do here,” Allen said of Battier. “Without guys like that, it’s hard to put together streaks like this, where you have consistency and habits and selflessness out there on the floor. He’s one of those guys who does the intangible things, so yeah, he does have a big part in it.”
It’s also more than a curiosity that Battier was a starter on the 2007-08 Rockets team that strung together those 22 victories. That makes him the only player in NBA annals to have played for two of the three teams with the longest winning streaks.
As Miami bears down on Houston in the No. 2 slot, Battier isn’t conflicted at all. “You live in the moment,” he said. “I look at what I’ve done in the past with a smile and a reminiscent kind of time, but I’m enjoying living right here, right now.”
Clearly he’s more than a good-luck charm in terms of winning streaks. Battier is a valuable piece of the Heat’s puzzle, same now as when he helped them win a championship last June.
And never forget, he’s a speech-giver. No, really: Battier is registered with the Washington Speakers Bureau, an agency that lines up pricey gigs for athletes, celebrities, business leaders, politicians, Nobel Prize winners and anyone else sought to entertain and inform a group.
In the WSB fee structure, Battier is a 4, which means he’ll typically be paid $15,000 to $25,000 per speaking engagement. He still makes more than that as an NBA player – his $3.135 million salary works out to about $38,231 per game – so it make sense that he threw the Heat a freebie that night in Toronto.
With results like this, though, it won’t be long before Battier’s podium price gets up there in Tom Brokaw-Frank Caliendo-Tony Blair territory. None of whom, it should be noted, ever won 21 in a row.