Heat, ‘Toughest, Meanest, Nastiest’ and … most garish? New court speaks volumes

MIAMI — The element as featured on the Miami Heat’s City Edition “Culture” jerseys is subtle.

Offered atop a red-black gradient on the right side of the jersey and continuing down onto the shorts, in small lettering, is Pat Riley’s mantra of, “The Hardest Working, Best Conditioned, Most Professional, Unselfish, Toughest, Meanest, Nastiest Team in the NBA.”

Unless viewed within the closest of proximity, the phrase is barely noticeable, certainly not as cameras pan wide during games.

That subtle addition already has been in play, with the Heat unveiling the uniforms for Friday night’s victory over the Washington Wizards at Kaseya Center.

Now, with the Heat unveiling their Heat Culture court for Monday night’s game against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers (the Heat’s bold-red NBA’s In-Season Tournament court was utilized Friday night), Riley’s credo is can’t miss, painted in red letters over the black paint in each of the free-throw lanes.

There, in full view, it stands for the Heat to take stock of the core values Riley has emphasized since his arrival as Heat president in 1995 . . . but also there for opposing teams to potentially assess as hubris.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said it is not as if the Heat suddenly are attempting, with the marketing divison’s Culture campaign, to foist their private locker-room values onto the league at large, with NBA TV’s cameras in play Monday.

“So what?” he said of the inscription-embossed court design. “Look it up on Google.”

The Heat are scheduled to play on the courts upwards of half their home games the balance of the season, in conjunction with the marketing of the Culture uniforms.

“It doesn’t bother us,” Spoelstra said of outside perceptions. “That’s who we are. People can think of whatever they want, it doesn’t matter for us. It’s not for everybody, and we’re not for everybody. It matters to us.”

So motivation for the opposition, as they wait for a player to shoot a free throw, to perhaps show the Heat that they, too, are hardest-working or toughest or nastiest?

“If that provides whatever to somebody else, we don’t care,” Spoelstra said. “The game still has to be decided between the four lines.”

After his team held its morning shootaround at Kaseya Center, former Heat forward LeBron James was asked about the letting in the lane.

He said team culture is more about slogans or lettering.

“Obviously it starts from the top, but at the end of the day it’s the guys that are in the locker room holding guys accountable,” he said during his media session. “You can have the messaging come from the top, but if guys are not abiding by it or doubling down on it in the locker room and then applying it on the floor and applying it off the court and being model citizens, or whatever the case may be, then it still doesn’t matter.”

Still, James said his Heat lessons continue to resonate.

“As far as my career,” he said, “my career was going to be my career as far as individually, because I know how much I put into the game and I know how much I strived to be as great as I can be. [But] as far as what I was able to learn here was second to none, that’s for sure.”

To James, “culture” transcends the Heat.

“To just have a steady diet of the same people helps,” he said of Heat continuity that starts with Riley and Spoelstra. “That’s why I look at it like I do when you say Miami, you have San Antonio, you have the Steelers, you have the Patriots. You have to look at those.”

Succession plan

With Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr saying he plans to step down as coach of the USA Basketball’s senior men’s team following next summer’s Paris Olympics, the door appears open for Spoelstra to take over for the next World Cup/Olympics cycle.

Kerr, who succeeded Gregg Popovich after the San Antonio Spurs coach worked a similar Cup/Olympics cycle, told The Athletic of his plans to vacate the position after the Paris Games.

Spoelstra assisted Kerr at the World Cup in the Philippines and previously worked with the USA Select Team during Popovich’s Team USA tenure.

“To me, it’s a two-year; it’s a cycle,” Kerr said. “Pop coached a World Cup and the Olympics, now it’s my turn to pass the baton. I think that’s kind of how it should be. Frankly, it’s a huge commitment, too.”

Heat center Bam Adebayo, who helped Team USA win gold at the 2021 Tokyo Games, has said he plans to make himself available for the Paris Olympics alongside Spoelstra.