Want ultimate reality TV? Watch Game 7

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2005

October 26, 1997. That’s it. The only time. The single occasion in our professional sports history when this community has played host to and a visceral player in a bigger game than Heat-Pistons on Monday night.

That was Game 7 of the World Series, of course, the night of the Marlins' 3-2 triumph over Cleveland in 11 innings. In the mind's snapshot, Craig Counsell is forever airborne with arms raised, leaping toward home, South Florida flying with him.

That was for the championship.

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This is for the chance.

What will Monday night's indelible snapshot be? Will it be Dwyane Wade heroically rising above the rim and the pain? Will it be Shaquille O'Neal taking an entire city on a Diesel ride? Or will it be a packed arena stunned silent by the wrong team celebrating?

Sports gets no better than this. It's the ultimate reality TV: no script, anybody's ending. The only guarantee is somebody's heartache.

We have had other home games comparably big as Monday night's - elimination games this close to a title shot - but they are rare treats we must exercise the civic memory to recall. The Dolphins spoiled us, once (remember?), playing in six AFC Championship Games at the Orange Bowl or Joe Robbie Stadium between the 1971 and '92 seasons.

Otherwise? Nothing like Monday night since Counsell's dance.

Not since for the past-mired Dolphins.

It isn't just that Heat-Pistons crescendos with a Game 7. It is all of the drama packed into the series. Controversies. Silliness. Anger. Injuries. Questions. The series has been a simmering volcano. The lava tips off at 8:15.

The Pistons' season and championship reign shall die if Wade plays and substantially contributes and if O'Neal has a game as big as he is.

But a danger for Miami is if it believes Heat-minus-Wade alone equaled 91-66 on Saturday night in Auburn Hills, Mich. So much else went wrong in Game 6 besides the absence of Flash. That includes 19 turnovers resulting in 25 easy Pistons points.

The supporting actors and stunt doubles must do more, yes, but make no mistake: Miami on Monday night will have won or been done based on its two stars, rising.

Rasual Butler said the other day of O'Neal and Wade, "We wouldn't be as good without them guys. But they wouldn't be as good without us."

OK. Fair enough.

Picasso and Renoir wouldn't have been as good without brushes, either.

But there isn't much doubt where the art starts.

Game 7 now. Blank canvas.

Who wants to paint something we might never forget?

Greg Cote is a sports columnist for The Miami Herald.