The term “Miami Heat culture” is often mentioned in press conferences, but only a small group of people truly understand what being a member of Pat Riley’s franchise entails. Hall of Famer Gary Payton has a strong message for those who’ve already brushed aside the Heat from returning to the NBA Finals this season.
Payton, aka “The Glove,” who played two seasons with Miami before retiring in 2007 and is arguably one of the best point guards to ever play in the NBA, shared with Heavy his unfiltered thoughts on the Heat’s rollercoaster first half of the season and the amount of adversity the team had to overcome to finish it off with a respectable 18-18 record.
“I was not surprised about the way they’ve come back,” Payton said. “Miami had a lot of injuries, too. When you have a lot of injuries, you’ve gotta recoup away from it. The Miami Heat have a lot of great basketball players — Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, the young kids, [Tyler] Herro — once they get back on their feet, they showed in the bubble how they can be dominant. You see it now.”
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After Miami was ravaged by COVID-19 earlier in the season, “They’re getting their pieces back together, getting their players back together,” Payton said. “They’re starting to play basketball how they’re supposed to. You have to give [Heat’s head coach] Erik Spoelstra the credit for that.”
Heat Culture Has Not Changed Since Payton Played for Riley
Payton, who played 17 years in the NBA, says there’s been no change in Heat culture since he last played for the franchise. “Their tradition is always the same,” said the 52-year-old former Defensive Player of the Year. “Pat Riley has always run that thing the same way. Spo is his protégé, who runs it the same way he would if Pat was there — the way he ran it when I had him. They’re going to run it the same way.”
According to Payton, Heat culture has become canon in South Beach because it’s simply brass tacks:
They’re going to make you get in shape. They’re going to make you fight. They’re going to make you not quit. They’re going to give you that culture of winning. No matter what happens, if we’re going through something, we are going to go in this locker room and fight it out between each other but then we are going to go out on that floor, we’re going to be teammates and we’re going to be family and we’re going to beat people together. That is what they’re doing now.
Payton Also Gives Credit to Heat Guard Kendrick Nunn
Payton also gives credit to Kendrick Nunn, who’s averaging 14.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game and has proven he can step up when five-time All-Star Butler is out.
“Spo didn’t play Nunn no time in the bubble or in the beginning of the season but now you see what he is doing,” Payton told Heavy. “They saw what he was at the beginning of the year, last year, he was an All-Rookie player, but they did not play him in the playoffs and in the Finals. But he comes right back and he is lifted up, he has been their star without Butler, when he was not there. Nunn has given them wins so they can get right back into the race now that everyone is healthy.”