South Florida remains the axis on which the sports world turns.
It’s not just the pro basketball and hockey teams, which are playing in the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final, respectively. It’s yet another megastar, this time soccer GOAT Lionel Messi, taking his talents to South Beach.
In basketball and hockey, squads from the Miami area and beyond have been punching well above their weight. Upsets are the rule rather than the exception; Cinderella runs go way past midnight; and in general no team with a (1) next to its name wants to play a South Florida team these days.
Here’s a quick look back at the improbable run of Florida dominance.
After his departure from Paris Saint-Germain, Messi is headed to MLS. The 2022 World Cup winner had been rumored to return to Barcelona or make a move to Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal. Instead, he’ll play for David Beckham’s club.
Breaking: Lionel Messi says he’s going to play for Inter Miami, he told SPORT and Mundo Deportivo. pic.twitter.com/G6j0yNRaMr
— ESPN (@espn) June 7, 2023
Men’s NCAA tournament: Miami and Florida Atlantic
The Miami Hurricanes and Florida Atlantic Owls were fifth and ninth seeds, respectively, going into the NCAA tournament. They certainly didn’t play like it. Miami knocked off the 4-seed Indiana Hoosiers, 1-seed Houston Cougars and 2-seed Texas Longhorns to make their first Final Four in tournament history. Meanwhile, the Owls defeated the 8-seed Memphis Tigers, stopped the 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson Knights and beat the 4-seed Tennessee Volunteers and 3-seed Kansas State Wildcats, becoming only the second ever 9-seed to make the Final Four. While both lost in the Final Four, FAU came achingly close to upsetting the 5-seed San Diego State Aztecs and continuing their improbable run.
Women’s NCAA tournament: Miami
Another big run for the Miami Hurricanes. Miami beat the 8-seed Oklahoma State Cowgirls, 1-seed Indiana Hoosiers and 4-seed Villanova Wildcats, losing only to the eventual champion LSU Tigers in the Elite Eight.
He’s not a team, but Koepka is a West Palm Beach native. He hadn’t won a major tournament since 2019 and was ranked 44th going into the 2023 PGA Championship, which he then won by 2 strokes.
The Boston Bruins had one of the greatest regular seasons in NHL history, setting records for wins (65) and points (135) on their way to a first-round matchup against the Florida Panthers, who had 42 wins and only 92 points — respectable for sure, but nowhere near historic. When the Bruins took a 3-1 lead in the series, it looked like things were over for the Panthers, but they roared back, winning three games in a row and stunning the Bruins. Then they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games and swept the Carolina Hurricanes to make just their second Stanley Cup Final appearance.
How improbable was their run? On March 18, the Panthers were 100-1 to win the Stanley Cup, their longest odds during the regular season, according to Caesars Sportsbook. The Panthers then finished with the fewest regular-season points (92) of any team to make the playoffs. Then there were the matchups Florida faced to reach this point. In Boston (1), Carolina (2) and Toronto (4), the Panthers faced three of the NHL’s top four teams in points.
Though Miami’s playoff run started inauspiciously with a loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in, the Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls to advance to the next round against the 1-seed Milwaukee Bucks … whom they promptly dispatched in five games, including a 56-point outburst by Jimmy Butler in Game 4. They beat the New York Knicks in six games to face off against the Boston Celtics. Miami built a 3-0 series lead before Boston tied the series in dramatic fashion. No problem. The Heat then torched the Celtics in Game 7.
The Heat’s path is similar to that of the Panthers. The Heat beat the Bucks and Celtics, who had the best records in the NBA this season. The Heat are the fifth team in NBA history to defeat the top two teams in winning percentage prior to the Finals, joining the 2010 Celtics, 2002 Los Angeles Lakers, 1995 Houston Rockets and 1977 Portland Trail Blazers.
This is the 10th time that NHL and NBA teams from the same metro area have reached the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final in the same season and the first since 2016. In none of the previous nine instances has both teams won the title.
Maybe the sensational spring of South Florida changes that.