The first thing you notice when you walk into the Miami Heat locker room is the people. Approximately 10 minutes after every game an army of reporters, bloggers, cameramen and other descend on the Heat, changing quarters like a hurricane. The flood of people doesn't stop. The stampede doesn't lessen when the Heat leave Miami, in fact it's just as bad on the road. As a Heat ball boy said outside the locker room in Washington last month, "every game is like the NBA Finals."
While the publicity of the Heat's free agent additions, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, are the reason for this increased media presence, it's noteworthy how little attention the rest of the team receives. When I covered the Heat in Washington D.C. recently, Mike Bibby and Erick Dampier, the other two Heat starters besides James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade, basically walked out of the locker room unimpeded while the big three faced a mob.
"That's just the way it is around here," the 15-year veteran Dampier said with a grin. "Everyone just wants to come in and talk to the big three. After the summer we had it's not that surprising."
Eddie House, who played a big role on the Celtics 2008 Championship team, agreed with Dampier about the circus like atmosphere surrounding the team. "This is crazier then anywhere I've played. It's three of the best players in the league on the court together so obviously there will be a ton of added attention."
While the Heat role players may not sell papers, they are the key to Miami winning in the playoffs. LeBron and Wade are phenomenal and Bosh is a talented forward but you cannot win in the NBA with three guys contributing and the rest watching the show.
The Heat are 1-6 against the Bulls and Celtics, their main competition for the Eastern conference crown, because their secondary players got completely dominated. On February 13, James, Wade and Bosh scored 62 combined points but the Heat lost to the Celtics because they had no other players in double figures. On March 6, the big three scored a combined 69 points against the Bulls but still lost because they had only one other scorer in double digits.
Pat Riley brought it veterans like Mike Miller, Mike Bibby and Eddie House to put the ball in the basket and Zydrunas Illgauskas and Dampier to clean up the boards and play defense. They've all shown flashes but nothing like the consistency they'll need in a 7-game series against a quality opponent.
House thinks that the bench has developed an us-against -the-world quality, partly because of their teammates. "At the end of the day we've accepted the challenge. I knew it was going to be like this media wise when I signed here and I just don't care."
For the glitzy superstars and media horde that follows them to keep rolling through June, it's going to take contributions from the forgotten members of the Miami Heat.