2023 Has Been a Crazy Year for South Florida Sports


The Championship Banner of the Miami Heat, who unexpetedly made it to the NBA Finals in 2023 where they lost to the Denver Nuggets 4-1. (Courtsey of Wikemedia Commons)

By Isaac Dunaway, Sports Writer


This year has been one of the most memorable years if you’re a South Florida sports fan. There have been multiple unexpected postseason runs, including Lionel Messi joining MLS’s Inter Miami CF.

The story began back in January. The NFL’s Miami Dolphins beat the New York Jets 11-6 in the final game of the season to secure a playoff spot, their first in six years. Despite starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and backup Teddy Bridgewater both unavailable due to injuries, the Dolphins nearly pulled off a massive upset in the playoffs against the Buffalo Bills. Miami rallied around third-string rookie Skylar Thompson and gave Buffalo everything they had, but fell just short 31-34.

In March, the South Florida region saw two of their schools make runs to the Men’s March Madness Final Four: the Miami Hurricanes in Coral Gables and the Florida Atlantic Owls in Boca Raton. Neither of these teams were expected to make it as far as they did. Miami was a No. 5 seed in the tournament and FAU was a No. 9 seed.

Miami started off their tournament run with a 63-56 win over Drake and an 85-69 win over Indiana. They then upset two top-seeded Texas teams. The Hurricanes took out No. 1 seed Houston in the Sweet 16, winning 89-75. Against No. 2 seed Texas, Miami rallied from an 8-point halftime deficit to defeat the Longhorns 88-81 and advance to the Final Four.

Florida Atlantic was close to elimination in the first round. Down one point to Memphis, the Owls won a jump ball with five seconds left. Nick Boyd got the inbound pass in the corner, drove to the hoop and laid it in with 2.5 seconds left. Memphis could not get a shot off on the ensuing play and FAU barely advanced, 66-65. The rest of their run through the East region was all single-digit wins as well. FAU beat Fairleigh Dickinson 78-70 in the second round, Tennessee 62-55 in the Sweet 16 and Kansas State 79-76 to advance to the school’s first-ever Final Four.

Both South Florida runs came to an end in the Final Four. The eventual national champions, the UConn Huskies, unfortunately, proved to be too much for Miami and comfortably defeated the Hurricanes 72-59. Florida Atlantic came so close to advancing to the national championship game. The Owls led San Diego State for the majority of the other semifinal and held a one-point lead in the final seconds. SDSU’s Lamont Butler hit a jumper as the buzzer sounded to win the game 72-71. Despite how both runs ended, it was still incredible to see two underdog schools from the same region play in the Final Four in the same year.

The Cinderella postseason runs continued for South Florida throughout the spring. Both the NBA’s Miami Heat and NHL’s Florida Panthers advanced to the championship series in their leagues. What makes this even more remarkable is that both teams were No. 8 seeds, the last spot in the playoffs.

The Heat nearly missed the playoffs altogether. In the play-in tournament, they trailed the Chicago Bulls with less than four minutes to go in a win-or-go-home game. They closed out the Bulls in the final minutes and secured the  No. 8 seed.

Miami then faced the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the best regular season record in the league. In a surprising upset, the Heat defeated Milwaukee in just five games. It is important to note that Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo dealt with injuries and missed some time in the series. On the other hand, Miami beat the Bucks in every game Antetokounmpo played in. The highlight of the series was game 4. Milwaukee led most of the way but, behind an absurd effort from Jimmy Butler, the Heat rallied and won the game. Butler scored 56 points, tied for the fourth most ever in a playoff game.

After eliminating the Bucks, the Heat defeated the New York Knicks in 4 games in round two. This set up an Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Boston Celtics, the third time for this matchup in four years. Miami dominated early, taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. Boston fought back and won the next two games. This set up game 6 in Miami, where it appeared the Heat were going to win a back-and-forth game. Butler hit three free throws to give Miami the lead with just three seconds left. On Boston’s final possession, Marcus Smart missed a three-point shot. Derrick White got the rebound and tipped the ball in right before the buzzer, winning the game for the Celtics. Miami responded and won game 7 in Boston soundly, advancing to the NBA Finals.

Unfortunately for the Heat, they were overmatched by the Denver Nuggets in the Finals. Miami was able to win a close one in game 2, but Denver was in control from that point on. The Nuggets won the series in five games. Despite the loss, the Heat still made one of the most unexpected playoff runs in NBA history. They became the second No. 8 seed to make it to the NBA Finals, joining the 1999 New York Knicks.

The Florida Panthers had a very similar story this season, sneaking their way into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference which gave them a first-round matchup with the Boston Bruins. The Bruins set the NHL record for most wins and points in a single season. This success continued into the playoffs, as Boston took a 3-1 lead against Florida. The Panthers fought back, taking game 5 in Boston and game 6 at home. Game 7 went to overtime tied 3-3. Carter Verhaeghe scored about eight and a half minutes into overtime, winning the game and the series for the Panthers, marking one of the greatest upsets in NHL history.

Florida rode the momentum and flew through the rest of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They upset the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round and then swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final. The win over Carolina gave the Panthers their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1996. Florida ended up falling just short of the first Stanley Cup victory in franchise history, as they lost in the final to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Neither of these championship runs ended up being the biggest story in South Florida sports during the month of June. It was announced that soccer superstar Lionel Messi is set to come over to Major League Soccer and sign with Inter Miami, a team co-owned by fellow soccer icon David Beckham. Messi is arguably the most famous team sport athlete in the world and is coming off a World Cup victory with Argentina.

Messi cannot officially sign his contract with Miami until July because that is when his current contract with Paris Saint-Germain expires. When he signs, the contract is expected to be worth around $50-60 million. His first game with Miami is expected to be on July 21. Ticket prices for Inter Miami increased by nearly 1000% when the signing was announced. Messi’s time in the United States almost certainly will increase the popularity of the sport across the country, as one of the greatest soccer players of all time will play in the MLS.

But the craziest thing about 2023 in South Florida sports is that the year isn’t even halfway over yet. The Miami Marlins are having a great season. They are 45-34, sitting comfortably at second in the NL East. The Miami Dolphins are expected to build off of last year’s playoff berth and have a strong season as well. They acquired star cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Los Angeles Rams this offseason. Ramsey joins Xavien Howard to form one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. The Dolphins are also loaded on offense, with star receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle expected to have strong seasons. South Florida has come so close to winning it all this year, and there is still plenty to look forwards to.


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