When I think of the big men I grew up watching, recent Hall Of Fame inductee Alonzo Mourning comes to mind. But there is the image of Brian Grant–standing stout between ball handlers and the rim, grabbing rebounds like he was getting paid $86 million to do it.
Grant spent just four seasons with the Miami Heat, but was a fixture for a team that was transitioning from the Mourning Era to Wade’ s World.
In 2000, Pat Riley signed Grant to a seven-year, $86 million contract to team up with recently acquired Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason. Those three would join Zo to form a team sure to compete for an Eastern Conference title.
But Mourning was diagnosed with his kidney disease and Grant was forced to take over the center spot. He responded to his huge contract and surprise position change with a career year, averaging 15.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. We come to expect a dip in production from athletes who have just signed a mega deal, but Grant has always been of a different stripe.
Grant, at just 6-foot-9, was never a great scorer near the rim. He had his sweet spots, though, and was consistently among the league’s best bigs from the Haslomian 15-foot baseline area.
Grant’s shot chart from the 2000-01 season, per NylonCalculus.com.
The Heat won 50 games that season, with Grant guiding the defense, scoring the third-most points per game and behind only Mason in rebounds per game. Mourning would return in time for the playoffs, but Miami would get swept by Jamal Mashburn, a young Barin Davis and the rest of the Charlotte Hornets in the first round.
Next season with Mourning back at center, Grant returned to power forward. The team opted not to re-sign Mason after a disappointing playoff performance. With Zo and Grant, the Heat were among the NBA’s best defensive teams (third in defensive rating), but without Mason and other go-to scorers, finished near the bottom of the league in offensive rating. The Heat went 36-46. With a similar team (plus rookie Caron Butler) the Heat won just 25 games the next season. In those disappointing two seasons Grant continued to work his ass off on defense and on the boards, averaging roughly 9-and-8 and 10-and-10 those years while keeping Miami in the top-10 on defense. But the team just couldn’t score.
Then came Dwyane Wade.
Mourning left in free agency and Grant returned to center. Miami signed the promising Lamar Odom and Riley took a step back to allow Stan Van Gundy to take over as head coach. The era of Wade had begun. The Heat surprisingly went 42-40 and made the playoffs, beating the Hornets in the first round. Grant, along with Eddie Jones, were the fixtures on a team that transitioned from the end of Mourning to the ways of Wade.
Grant maintained a defensive presence on a team that struggled and disappointed for two years following a highly-anticipated, 50-win season. His willingness to lead a defense night in and night out while the team failed to put the ball in the basket won the hearts of fans. When our beloved Zo had to leave the league, Grant filled the void in our hearts by battling guys bigger than him for rebounds, defending every possession and finding a niche on offense. By maintaining the defensive identity in Miami, Grant helped give Wade fertile ground to grow into a super star.
When the Heat traded Grant to the Los Angeles Lakers for Shaq, I battled with the thought for days. Was this a good trade? Was this a bad trade? I remember riding the bus to school, trying to figure out why the Heat would trade the core of a young, playoff team but also thinking “why wouldn’t they trade for the most dominate player in the league?”
Back then, I only watched the Heat. I had no interest in what was happening with other teams. My Heat was my team. Those were my guys. But when Grant was traded to LA, I found myself tuning in to whatever Lakers game I could stay up for to see my guy Grant work his ass off. He kept me involved with the Heat, and got my involved with the rest of NBA, even if only a little bit.
Battling with injuries, Grant started just 10 games in his final two seasons after being traded from Miami. He quietly retired after the 2005-06 season, but Heat fans will always remember The General.
Stats via basketball-reference.com