South Florida sports fever: Heat, Panthers in finals makes for rare company

Can South Florida become first region to share NBA, NHL titles in same year?
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 6:51 AM EDT
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The center of the sports world seems to run through South Florida these days.

Just months after Florida Atlantic's improbable trip to the Final Four, the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers are simultaneously playing for their respective leagues' championships.

This just doesn't happen – especially not in South Florida, where the NBA didn't have a presence until the late 1980s and the NHL had no ties until the mid-1990s.

But it is happening, which is what makes the feat so impressive.

Even more impressive is the fact that both teams inched their way into the playoffs and had to take down the top overall seeds in the NBA and NHL just to make it past the first round.

OK, it shouldn't surprise longtime NBA fans that the Heat are back in the Finals. After all, this is a franchise that has already won three titles since 2006 and is making its seventh appearance in the NBA Finals – and second in four years. But even the most avid Heat fan would admit that this team was rather pedestrian throughout the regular season.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler reacts after scoring against the Boston Celtics during the...
Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler reacts after scoring against the Boston Celtics during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, Friday, May 19, 2023, in Boston.

Then there are the Panthers, who, despite having made the playoffs each of the last four years, are still widely regarded as the lesser of the two Florida-based NHL franchises. That's probably because the Tampa Bay Lightning have won three championships since 2004 and swept the Panthers in a second-round series last year.

The Panthers have made just one other Stanley Cup Final appearance way back in 1996. The story after that is mostly forgettable, but it goes something like this: Florida only qualified for the playoffs seven times since and failed to win a playoff series again until 2022.

But, hey, that's all in the past now. What's in the immediate future for the Panthers is a weekend trek to the desert to face the Vegas Knights in the opening game of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Florida Panthers celebrate after defeating the Boston Bruins on a goal by Carter Verhaeghe...
The Florida Panthers celebrate after defeating the Boston Bruins on a goal by Carter Verhaeghe in overtime during Game 7 of an NHL first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 30, 2023, in Boston.

The Heat get started sooner, taking on the Western Conference champion Nuggets in Denver starting Thursday night.

It's not often that two teams from the same city or geographical area have played for the Stanley Cup and Larry O'Brien Trophy at the same time. In fact, it's only happened nine times since the birth of the NBA during the 1946-47 season.

Regional NBA/NHL Franchises to Play for Championships in Same Season

2015-16Golden State WarriorsLost series vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 3-4
San Jose SharksLost series vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-4
2002-03New Jersey NetsLost series vs. San Antonio Spurs, 2-4
New Jersey DevilsWon series vs. Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 4-3
1993-94New York KnicksLost series vs. Houston Rockets, 3-4
New York RangersWon series vs. Vancouver Canucks, 4-3
1991-92Chicago BullsWon series vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 4-2
Chicago BlackhawksLost series vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 0-4
1979-80Philadelphia 76ersLost series vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 2-4
Philadelphia FlyersLost series vs. New York Islanders, 2-4
1973-74Boston CelticsWon series vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 4-3
Boston BruinsLost series vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 2-4
1971-72New York KnicksLost series vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 1-4
New York RangersLost series vs. Boston Bruins, 2-4
1957-58Boston CelticsLost series vs. St. Louis Hawks, 2-4
Boston BruinsLost series vs. Montreal Canadiens, 2-4
1956-57Boston CelticsWon series vs. St. Louis Hawks, 4-3
Boston BruinsLost series vs. Montreal Canadiens, 1-4

Even though the Panthers have called Sunrise home since 1998, they began by sharing the same venue with the Heat. Both teams played at the now-demolished Miami Arena before then-Panthers owner Wayne Huizenga packed up the team and headed 35 miles north into Broward County, moving into what was then known as the National Car Rental Center (and later Office Depot Center, Bank Atlantic Center and BB&T Center), which has been called FLA Live Arena since 2021.

If the dream seasons can somehow continue through the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final, the Heat and Panthers would make history by becoming the first franchises to win in the same year in the same territory.

The heat is on in South Florida. Or is it cool as ice?

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