MIAMI – The legend of “Lead Us Kevin” dates only to late February, but it already has become lore in the Miami Heat locker room, replete with accompanying T-shirts.
It also has spawned “Lead Us Max” and “Lead Us Kyle” and, this past Saturday, “Lead Us Cody.”
But the leading man with the team’s new catchphrase is veteran power forward Kevin Love and it started in the most innocuous fashion by the most trite of comments from assistant coach Chris Quinn.
“It was like a shooting drill that Chris Quinn was running in practice,” Heat forward Max Strus told the Sun Sentinel ahead of Monday night’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Knicks, “and he just said, ‘Kevin, go first.’ And I just said, ‘Lead us Kevin,’ out of nowhere. I didn’t think it would stick like this. But it’s kind of running its own race. It’s been fun. It’s hilarious. And everybody’s buying into it.”
Having joined the Heat on Feb. 20 after receiving a buyout from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Love, the 34-year-old former All-Star, wasn’t sure what was going on at the moment, uncertain if that was just typical for the way Heat coach Erik Spoelstra started drill work.
So teammates Gabe Vincent, Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler joined in on the fun.
“Typically,” Love told the Sun Sentinel, “there’s certain drills right at the beginning of practice that Coach Spo will have a guy lead us. So, like, he’d given me the ball and then Max said something a few times. Max and I started saying it back and forth literally every day we saw each other. And then Gabe jumped on board, Kyle jumped on board, Jimmy. And then it just became part of our identity as a team.”
To the point that it now is how Spoelstra brings in the huddle in the locker room.
“At the end of the game, when we get a win, it’s always somebody that is going to bring us in and we kind of tip our hat to them,” Love said. “We don’t have anything that we’re throwing on or putting on a hardhat or anything like that. But there certainly is a feeling when we bring it in and everybody gives us that, ‘Lead us.’ ”
The “Lead Us” man after Saturday’s Game 3 victory over the Knicks at Kaseya Center was journeyman center Cody Zeller, whose scrappy effort included a late-game dustup with the Knicks’ Julius Randle and Isaiah Hartenstein.
Typically, the Heat tend to keep such rituals in-house, as Pat Riley did with the team’s container full of 15 Strong cards during the run to the 2006 NBA championship. But with this such a boisterous locker room, that approach didn’t have a chance.
“It just took on a life of its own,” Love said. “Honestly, it’s just like the identity of who we are and guys honestly stepping up to the challenge, guys doing it in different ways.”
And, yes, it initially was intended to remain within the inner sanctum.
“I think in some ways we prefer it that way,” Love said. “It’s just part of who we are. It’s just us grinding it out. I think it’s part of us being a hard-nosed team, guys doing whatever is necessary, to lead us.”
But with Strus and Love having nearby lockers and equally acerbic bents, “Lead Us” soon enough became a talking point.
“Kevin’s got a great sense of humor, and me and him just clicked immediately since he was here,” Strus said. “And we’re both sort of sarcastic. We kind of just started messing with each other. And, yeah, it just stuck with us. And then once other people started hearing us say it, everybody else is buying into it. It’s pretty funny.
“It’s kind of taken that role. But everybody’s saying it now. Everybody’s doing it, even the coaching staff. Our equipment manager made shirts for the support staff that say, ‘Lead us Kevin.’ “