‘5 at 35′: Miami Heat’s top 5 centers of all-time — Zo or Shaq as No. 1?

With 2022-23 marking the Miami Heat’s 35th season, the Sun Sentinel is unveiling a series of “5 at 35″ reflections from staff writer Ira Winderman, who has covered the entirety of the franchise’s 3 1/2 decades.

After opening the series with a look at the five greatest games in the team’s history, five franchise-altering moments, the team’s biggest celebrity fans, five of the biggest personalities over the years, five notable Heat Lifers and rivalries that have defined the franchise, we began our position-by-position breakdown with the top five shooting guards, point guards, small forwards and power forwards since the franchise’s 1988 inception, moving today to center.

As with the debate between Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh, center also provides its complexity when it comes to Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal, and longevity vs. dominance.

1. Alonzo Mourning. Until Dwyane Wade came along, it appeared Alonzo Mourning would go down as the greatest player in franchise history, his arrival in a Nov. 3, 1995 trade with the Charlotte Hornets coinciding with the coaching arrival of Pat Riley.

Through the ups and downs of playoff showdowns with the New York Knicks, kidney illness and a brief departure in free agency, Mourning returned to contribute to the Heat’s 2006 NBA championship, becoming the first player to be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame based on his body of work with the Heat, his No. 33 the first number retired by the franchise.

2. Shaquille O’Neal. Of course, Shaq’s No. 32 also is in the rafters at FTX Arena, having stood as arguably the most looming presence of these 3 1/2 Heat decades.

He arrived on July 14, 2004 promising to bring South Florida a championship and delivered alongside Wade in 2006, after initially falling short in the 2005 Eastern Conference finals.

While the tenure ultimately was brief, dealt to the Phoenix Suns in 2008 amid a personality clash with Pat Riley, the impact was significant.

3. Bam Adebayo. As the only active player among this quintet, it is easy to envision Adebayo eventually moving up this list, certainly past Shaq, if only because of longevity.

The Heat basically never have had a big man who could do the things Adebayo can, with the ability to defend all five positions and then also operate as the fulcrum of the offense.

When the ball went into Zo, it never came out. When it went into Shaq, it sometimes came out. With Adebayo, it’s almost as if he has to be implored to score.

With a goal of emulating Udonis Haslem’s staying power and also surpassing Haslem’s franchise career rebounding leader, Adebayo well could go down as a Heat center for the ages.

4. Rony Seikaly. There may have been no better initial ambassador in the middle during the Heat’s initial seasons than the Lebanese native who was raised in Greece and starred at Syracuse.

Seikaly’s international background and rebounding vitality energized a moribund expansion team, serving as the Heat’s man in the middle during the franchise’s first six seasons, as the franchise’s first-ever draft choice.

To this date, he still holds the franchise single-game rebounding record of 34 on March 3, 1993 against Washington.

5. Brian Grant. The undersized Grant was part of some of the grittiest Heat rosters during his tenure with the team from 2000 to 2004.

He stepped into the middle when Mourning was sidelined by kidney illness during the 2000-01 season and then was part of Wade’s rookie roster that advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

As for his overall value, he stood as a centerpiece in the 2004 offseason trade that landed O’Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Our list of top Heat centers when we put together our list for the franchise’s 30th anniversary in 2017 had Hassan Whiteside at No. 3. But in reflection, it’s as if his statistics were all empty calories.

Others worth noting include Joel Anthony, Chris Andersen, Isaac Austin, Kevin Willis and Jermaine O’Neal.

Up next: A look at the top sixth men over the years, as the franchise turns 35.

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