#2 Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley's hopes for a championship rest on a surgically repaired right thumb

February 08, 1999

After a workout at Florida International University last August,
forward Jamal Mashburn was on his way off the court when,
without thinking, he leaned over to pick a ball up off the floor
and palmed it with his right hand. Shocked, Mashburn danced
around the court smiling and laughing, holding the ball out for
everyone to see. His Heat teammates thought he had gone crazy.
But for Mashburn, who still has two screws in his reconstructed
right thumb, the simple feat was an exhilarating breakthrough.

After reestablishing himself early last season as the
multifaceted threat he had been in his first three years as a
pro, the 6'8" Mashburn came down awkwardly after a dunk against
the Pistons last Feb. 13 and fractured the thumb in 16 places.
It was the kind of severe break most commonly seen in high-speed
accidents, such as motorcycle crashes. Upon seeing X-rays team
doctor Harlan Selesnick told Mashburn his career might be over.
"And if you do somehow make it back," Selesnick added, "you'll
never palm a ball again."

"I've scored 50 points in a game," says the 26-year-old
Mashburn, "but palming that ball for the first time this summer
was probably my biggest thrill as a player."

If he stays healthy, Mashburn should have something a little
more exciting in store this season--a shot at the NBA
championship. Miami already has a dominant center in Alonzo
Mourning, and a sharp-shooting floor general in guard Tim
Hardaway. But experts generally think it takes a trio of
All-Stars to win a title. That's where Mashburn comes in,
especially now that Heat shooting guard Voshon Lenard is
hampered by a stress fracture in his left leg. "I can be that
third player we need," says Mashburn, "and I'm out to prove that
to everyone."

After the first few days of training camp, coach Pat Riley
seemed convinced. He was even entertaining thoughts of playing
Mashburn for 48 minutes a game and at all five positions.
"Certain guys you can just ride like a horse, and Jamal is a guy
like that," said Riley. "I know what Mash can do, we all saw it
last year before he got hurt. At that time he was exactly what I
had expected."

In his fourth year in Miami, Riley has fairly specific
expectations for the Heat, too: He wants a title. Anything less
and he may dismantle the team, which has had the NBA's best
road-winning percentage (.695) for the last two seasons. This
year, with the additions of power forward Clarence Weatherspoon
and veteran guard Terry Porter, Miami is deeper than ever.
"Basically what Coach has been saying to us is, It's time to get
it done," says Mashburn. "There can't be any more excuses. We
can't talk about winning a title anymore. We've just got to do

Can they? The answer may be in Mashburn's hand.

--David Fleming



Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Jamal Mashburn 63 15.1 ppg 4.9 rpg 2.8 apg 43.5 FG%
PF P.J. Brown 119 9.6 ppg 8.6 rpg 1.32 bpg 47.1 FG%
C Alonzo Mourning 32 19.2 ppg 9.6 rpg 2.24 bpg 55.1 FG%
SG Voshon Lenard 175 12.6 ppg 3.6 rpg 42.5 FG% 40.5 3FG%
PG Tim Hardaway 17 18.9 ppg 8.3 apg 3.7 rpg 1.68 spg

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 5

F Clarence 123 9.3 ppg 7.5 rpg 1.08 spg 44.1 FG%
G Terry Porter[+] 200 9.5 ppg 3.3 apg 44.9 FG% 39.5 3FG%
G-F Keith Askins 267 2.4 ppg 2.2 rpg 0.6 apg 32.0 FG%

1997-98 Record: 55-27 (first in Atlantic)
Coach: Pat Riley (fourth season with Heat)

[+]New acquisition
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Side of Mash Miami is counting on Mashburn to become its third offensive threat.