The Miami Heat had wrapped up their historically-poor first season in franchise history, winning only 15 games and securing the fourth pick in the 1989 draft. Glaring deficiencies were everywhere except at center, where Rony Seikaly anchored the pivot.
In that second draft in Heat history, Miami selected the Most Valuable Player of the previous NCAA Championship Tournament, Glen Anthony Rice out of the University of Michigan.
Rice was expected to provide the complementary outside to Seikaly’s inside punch, shooting a remarkable 51.6 percent from 3-point range during his senior season (still a U of M record). Remarkably, Rice struggled during his rookie season, hitting just 25 percent from long range. The Heat managed a slight improvement (finishing 18-64) but Rice would need to keep developing if Miami had any chance to succeed.
If you remember his career at all, then you know that development definitely took place.
In his second year, Rice started 77 games, averaged 17.4 points per game and dramatically upped his 3-point accuracy to nearly 39 percent. The Heat scrapped their way to 24 wins but “G-Money” was clearly on his way toward stardom.
As a third-year player, Rice connected on just more than 39 percent of his 3-pointers but averaged 22.3 points per game. Along with rookie Steve “Tricky” Smith, Rice led the Heat to 38 wins and the franchise’s first taste of the postseason. Miami lost to a Chicago Bulls squad in three straight games; that team was led by Michael Jordan on their way to their second championship.
Rice’s next three years in Miami were productive ones but the team was still trying to find their way, replacing head coach Ron Rothstein with Kevin Loughery and then Alvin Gentry. Smith was traded for Kevin Willis and Seikaly was shipped to Golden State; meanwhile, Rice just kept knocking down that silky-smooth jumper from around the rim.
He had an all-too-brief coming out moment in his last season with Miami. During the 1995 All-Star Game, Rice won the Three-Point Shootout. Harold “Baby Jordan” Miner had won the Slam Dunk competition and there was a sense that Miami was finally on the map.
While the Heat were certainly on the rise, Rice was destined not to be a part of it.
During the ’95 off-season, new majority owner Micky Arison wanted to make a splash and brought in Pat Riley as the team’s president and head coach. Riley had evolved since his days with the “Showtime” era Los Angeles Lakers, and had constructed a tough, gritty New York Knicks team that had just never been able to climb past Mount Jordan and the Bulls. But, as he had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in L.A. and Patrick Ewing in New York, he needed a center to build the foundation for his team.
Rice was traded away to the Charlotte Hornets for a young center who was disgruntled with his contract by the name of Alonzo Mourning, the future Hall-of-Famer.
The trade was bittersweet for me, as Rice was – like for many Heat fans – my favorite player. Watching games at the old Miami Arena, you could see G-Money prepare for games by routinely knocking down consecutive shot after shot. An effortless motion of perfect, fluid grace. Conversely, Mourning and Riley represented a more smash-mouth style of play, one that would be tantalizing for Heat fans for several seasons. Like the rest of Heat Nation, my loyalties shifted to Zo and Company.
But Rice’s career was just hitting its peak, representing the Hornets in three straight All-Star Games and even winning the 1997 MVP award (over Jordan, no less). He was sent to the Lakers for Eddie Jones (a future Heat player) and got a championship ring before Mourning, the perfect complement to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Phil Jackson’s “Triangle Offense.” His career wound down with stops in New York, Houston and lastly, with the L.A. Clippers.
Over his career, Rice averaged an outstanding 85 percent on free throws and scored an average of 18.9 points per game. He was one of several incredibly gifted scorers from that era, and was never perceived as a “superstar” because of it. Still, I can’t help thinking about those smooth, consistent jumpers raining down from everywhere.
I even met him once, while his career still had some life to it. After several drinks one night at a popular Coconut Grove watering hole, I walked (maybe stumbled) outside with a friend and who should I see but Glen and his then-wife, Christy. The former Mrs. Rice had made a name for herself as an obnoxious presence at Lakers games; on this occasion, she had Glen toting several bags from near-by upscale boutiques, even at well-past midnight.
Perhaps a little loose of tongue, I went up to Glen (with Christy rolling eyes in the background like many Cubans pronounce their “R’s”) and told him how he was my favorite player, and how we needed him back in Miami to finally get us that ring. He shook my hand, never dismayed at my drunken buffoonery, and simply said, “That’s what I want more than anything. I’m working on it, believe me.”
I did and walked away, giddy as hell, thinking it was a done deal. Unfortunately, it never worked out that way. I’d watch his career from afar and always hoped for the best.
And I still remember him, Miami’s first real star, knocking down shot after shot from behind the line, just as easily as the rest of us draw breath.