Tim Hardaway believes Miami Heat culture started in 1996-97 season with himself, Pat Riley, Alonzo Mourning and others

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One thing that the Miami Heat have become known for over the last decade or so is the team’s vaunted culture that seems to impact individuals from the front office all the way down to the roster and training staff.

The Heat culture, which puts fitness, hard work and dedication to excellence above all else, has been credited with helping Miami become one of the best franchises in the NBA.

Many believe that the team’s culture really took shape under the tutelage of former head coach and current top executive Pat Riley and former Heat superstar Dwyane Wade. However, according to former Heat star Tim Hardaway, the culture began much earlier than that.

“I think the Heat culture started in ‘96-97,” Hardaway told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel of his first full season with the Heat. “It didn’t happen when Pat Riley arrived [in 1995-96], because he hadn’t put his team together.

“Once the team in ‘96-97 got complete and we went out there and practiced, got out and worked, went out there and played, we just wanted to win. We had fun playing with each other and together and we could always count on each other to get in that foxhole and know that everybody had each others’ back. And that’s where it started.”

He added that he and a number of other former Heat players, including fellow great Alonzo Mourning, were also architects of the team’s culture that has now spanned several different eras of NBA basketball.

“Heat culture started with Pat Riley coming to the Miami Heat,” Hardaway said, “with Keith Askins, Alonzo Mourning, and then when he made that trade. I really think Heat culture started in ‘96-97, with Keith, Alonzo Mourning, myself, Voshon Lenard, Dan Majerle, Ike Austin and P.J. Brown, of course.

“All this social media, they forget about what really, really happened in ‘96-97, ‘98, ‘99. They forget about what really happened. They just look at now, with the Big Three and those guys. I laugh, I just let it go. But it started in ‘96-97 and a lot of people forget about that.”

There’s no question that those early Heat teams were something special. Back in the mid-1990s, the Heat were still one of the youngest teams in the NBA. The franchise got off the ground in 1988, and it quickly became a championship contender in its first full decade of existence.

In that 1996-97 season, the Heat were a dominant force. They finished the season with a then-franchise record 61 wins. They then went on to win their first two playoff series that year before running into Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls won that series in five games and the NBA title that season.

As for the Heat, it would be nearly another decade before they would get the chance to win their first NBA title. Of course, that championship came on the back of Wade himself.

Still, just because Wade was the first player to take the Heat to the promised land, there’s no reason to forget the stars that came before him and helped put South Florida on the NBA map.

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Jonathan is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and passionate fan of the NBA. In the past Jonathan has covered politics, entertainment, travel, and more. He is a proud contributor of Heat Nation.