Martin Schwartz and Matthew Mandel are having a good time. Actually two. This month, the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers made it through to the finals after thrashing the playoffs, and lifelong friends hit the jackpot in the sports world and are now competing for the NBA and NHL titles at the same time.
Schwartz and Mandel have lived in South Florida all their lives, have been friends since college, and have shared season tickets for both teams for years. The Heat won just 15 games in 2007-08, but home games were filled with raucous fans cheering on the visiting team.
They celebrated the Heat’s title wins in 2012 and 2013, which featured Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, and savored the Panthers’ sporadic playoff appearances. But they didn’t expect both teams to start the postseason as the No. 8 seed and go into contention for the title, beating top clubs in upset after upset.
“I was very pessimistic when the playoffs started,” Schwartz said. He was a batboy for the Florida Marlins in the 1990s and wore a Panthers jersey in Wednesday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets. “But we realized it all depends on the playoffs. Enjoy yourself. You only get one chance.”
this is It will be the 10th time the two teams have met From one market, he made it to the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals in the same year. The last time it happened was in 2016 when the Golden State Warriors and San Jose Sharks (both losers) battled for the title. The Bruins and Celtics have done it three times, dating back to 1957, and the Knicks and Rangers twice. However, the regional hockey and basketball teams have never won in the same year.
With the Heat and the Panthers battling four straight games at home, the battle for the title has been hot every night in South Florida this week. The two teams’ arenas are about 40 miles apart, and while each team has its core fan base, there are also teams like Schwartz and Mandel who are committed to both sports. Both teams are 1-2 in the series going into Friday’s heats.
“It doesn’t happen very often, so I wanted to try it,” said Miami native Raul Arias, who watched the Heat and Panthers game night after night with his brother, father and friends.
It was the first time two teams from the southern market were chasing the title at the same time, but it was inevitable. America’s biggest sports leagues have been in Florida for years and with good reason. They’re a business looking for new fans, new sponsors, more TV viewers, and America’s demographics have tilted south and west for decades.
The Rangers and Bruins have been on the ice since Calvin Coolidge was president. But history is fungible and ephemeral in sports. The Heat arrived in Miami in 1988, when Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ was a hit. The Panthers entered the NHL in 1993. Since then, his six teams have entered the league: the Columbus Blue Jackets, Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Seattle Kraken, and Las Vegas Golden Knights.
The final between the Panthers and the Las Vegas Golden Knights, perhaps to the dismay of traditional fans of Canada and the Northern States, is the ultimate epitome of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s “Southern Strategy.” Bettmann has championed the change despite the financial woes of teams in Arizona and other new markets. But teams in the northern markets, including the Devils and Islanders, have financial troubles. And while teams in the southern markets (Atlanta comes to mind) are losing teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars are both in strong positions.
Bettman’s deputy Bill Daly told reporters before Game 1 of the finals that Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith is also interested in bringing the hockey team to Salt Lake City. said.
Fans of the old team may scream if another team enters the “non-traditional” hockey market. They already think little of South Florida fans who have been accused of being fashionably late for games and leaving early to avoid traffic. They are often typecast as transplants still rooting for their old hometown team. Or Ultimate Burnout: They only appear when they’re in good shape and disappear when the team is in the tank.
It’s all true to some extent. But fans are the same everywhere, including New York and Los Angeles. While Florida is growing exponentially, Add millions of new residents Over the past decade, some who have been transplanted here are embracing the benefits of their newfound sport. Playoff games have sold out, with some tickets fetching four-digit prices on the resale market. Since May 1, Heat and Panthers gear sales have surged 460% compared to the same period last year, according to Fanatics. Sports radio hosts were talking about hoops and hockey alongside football after Lionel Messi announced Thursday that he would be joining Inter Miami.
“The more they win, the busier we get,” says Norma Shelow, who has co-owned Mike’s in Venice for more than 30 years, just a short walk from the Caseya Center. During the playoffs, she said, fans start flocking to restaurants hours before game time and sales increase by 40 to 50 percent.
Shereau said he has many regulars, including NBA umpires, who stop by after games. But she also welcomes the many newbies who usually call in for reservations, even though the bar is first-come, first-served.
“I’ve lived here for many years and have never seen anything like this,” said amateur sports historian Abel Sanchez, 50. “If either of them wins the title, it’s instant. If they both win, who gets the film rights? And if you want to jump on the bandwagon, there’s room.”
It’s not uncommon for transplanters to adopt new home teams or have split loyalties. My father had been a Giants fan of baseball since he was growing up in New York, but switched allegiance to the Mets when his family moved to Long Island in the 1960s. (He still loves Willie Mays and took me to see the San Francisco Giants when they came to town). When he moved to West Palm Beach in the 1990s, he adopted the Marlins, who rewarded his loyalty by winning two World Series titles.
Florida has added 4 million new residents in the last decade or so, including those from Latin America and South America who have flocked to Miami. Some of these newcomers take the Heat or the Panthers as their home team, even though they’ve never played basketball or hockey. Why not? Supporting a sports team may be the most communal activity in American life.
“I totally agree with Jimmy Butler,” said Adam Trolls, an Englishman who travels between Miami and London to watch the Heat’s early morning games. “I would like to marry him if possible.”
On Wednesday, the Trolls searched for tickets to play in Game 3 against the Denver Nuggets. The cost was so high that he and girlfriend Jessica Jean watched the game at Coral Gables’ Duffy’s Tavern.
Despite all the hype, football is still the undisputed king of sports in Florida. Wins between the Dolphins and the Miami Hurricanes are still the talk of the town. In 2021, Tampa went wild as the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl and the Lightning won the Stanley Cup.
But basketball and hockey have their place. Transplants from Canada, the Northeast, and the Midwest remain loyal. But over time, new fans have also emerged for the Panthers, whose home ice at his FLA Live arena in Sunrise, Fla., is sandwiched between a shopping mall and the Everglades Wildlife Refuge. For the locals it was a parade of wealth.
Tyler Craig watched the Panthers defeat the Knights in overtime Thursday at the Quarterdeck, a sports bar 10 minutes from the arena.
“It’s exhausting to watch any number of games,” he said.