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Why As The Heat Get Better (Or Worse) So Do We

Al Diaz / Miami Herald Staff

There are few events in life that bring communities together. In many instances they are disasters, like hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes. But in some happier examples, they are sporting events.

In even more fortunate cases, those sporting events coincide with good times. Or perhaps, it’s no coincidence.   

Each spring for the past three years, the Miami Heat and its ‘us against the world’ attitude has come to stand for our diverse and often fractured community. It's the one diversion that unites all colors, races and creeds--from the Keys to the Palm Beaches.

We all marvel at LeBron’s seemingly superhuman abilities, and his unselfish--almost too unselfish--qualities to pass first and shoot later. We all know that Chris Bosh isn’t worth $17.5M, and may have his “man card” revoked at any time. We all flap our arms in silly delight when Chris “Birdman” Andersen finishes off a dunk. We all wince when we see an ailing supertstar Dwyane Wade crashing to the floor in pain again.

It’s even better knowing that most of the country isn't rooting for us. It’s us against the world, damn it and admit it--we love it. You feel like saying “I’m from Miami, home of the world’s best basketball player, and you’re just jealous because you didn’t get him.”

Our daily mood depends on what happened in the previous game. We can’t wait to talk about it with whomever we see, in whatever language or dialect.

But while there is the usual benefits of civic pride, there is also evidence that as the fortunes of the Heat have improved, so have ours.

Let’s go back three years. South Florida was still in the throes of the great recession in 2010, with unemployment in double-digits, real estate values still in plummet and many credit markets frozen. Everybody was feeling the malaise.

Then, came the announcement.

LeBron James' decision to take his "talents to South Beach" took our minds off the economic misery for a moment, gave us hope and brought us all together for a change.

Three straight NBA finals later, the jobless rate, which was hovering around 11 percent in 2010, has now dropped down near 7% according to the latest figures from The State’s Department of Economic Activity.

In the meantime, our real estate prices have skyrocketed upwards. The real estate market website Zillow.com reports that in late 2010 and early 2011, home values in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro had begun to hit rock bottom, selling for an average of $137,000. Now, nearly midway through 2013,  they are in the $170,000 range. That’s an increase of over 20%.

Even population growth, essential to the tax structure of our state, had begun to level off following the great recession. But that’s certainly not the case anymore, and especially in Southeast Florida. The South Florida Business Journal reported U.S. Census population figures last year that show growth in our region early this decade was 1.7%, the highest in the state. The state--and presumably the region--is also taking population away from places like New York (sorry Knicks fans).

We haven’t even mentioned tourism. Yes, many of the game tickets go to locals and the benefits may not be Super Bowl comparable. But the NBA and hundreds of reporters have now made Miami a June tradition, bringing their outside dollars to town at a time that’s considered low season for the region’s number one industry. The summer tourism business has never been better over the last three years, and Miami’s becoming the annual center of the basketball universe is helping that happen.

But you can't help but notice the difference three years can make; both on the basketball court and on the streets of South Florida as construction cranes reappear and our economy prospers again after a serious blow.

Then there are the intangibles. Three straight NBA finals and the hottest team in sports also attracts celebrity courtside visitors as diverse as Flo-Rida, Beckham and the Bieb to the American Airlines Arena. The TV cutaways alone are worth millions in publicity, so much so that Miami and Miami Beach tourism officials battle over which b-roll should be used.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re overstating the link, and perhaps I am.  

But you can't help but notice the difference three years can make; both on the basketball court and on the streets of South Florida as construction cranes reappear and our economy prospers again after a serious blow.

Yes, there’s plenty of room for improvement--and an NBA players’ multi-gazillion dollar salary bears little resemblance to the real world for most of us.

But perhaps as the Heat continues to get better--or worse, so will we.