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The Miami Heat plans to protest the NBA’s decision to become the first U.S. professional sports league to visit Cuba since President Barack Obama ordered diplomatic relations between the countries to be restored.
Officials in the front office of the Miami Heat say they were blindsided when they read media reports on Tuesday that the NBA would hold a four-day developmental camp for Cuban basketball players on April 23-26, adding that they hoped the league would have spoken to the team most affected by U.S.-Cuba relations before making that decision.
"The NBA never consulted with us. This was undertaken unilaterally. The minute we found out we registered our vehement objection to the league office. Neither the Heat nor any personnel will be participating," a team official told the Miami Herald, after Heat owner Micky Arison and club president Pat Riley declined interview requests.
The Heat – already struggling to find its identity after the departure of star LeBron James and failing to make the playoffs this year – are now faced with a situation that another Heat source told the Herald "seems political."
The Cuba issue is a touchy one for any business owners in the Miami area, but especially for Arison, who not only owns the most successful sports franchise in the area, but also heads up Miami-based Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise-ship operator that would likely see a windfall from a thaw in relations.
"That could be another delicate spot for Arison, the idea that increasingly normalized relations with Cuba could be very good for Carnival and his already enormous bank account – but could also lead many Heat fans to angrily consider those profits to be Castro-dirty," Cote wrote. "The Heat and Arison, unlike other teams and owners, must balance support for the United States and league policy with respect for the animus toward the Cuban government that so many in Miami still passionately feel."
The Cuba issue is a particularly hot topic in Miami. It caused the immediate demise of former Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillén back in 2012 after he praised the mush-despised former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Though some say it could pose less of a problem for the Heat ownership in the near future than once thought.
Long dominated by anti-Castro politicians, the political landscape of South Florida is changing as many first-generation Cuban-Americans are being replaced by second and third-generation Cubans who don’t harbor the same hatred for the Castro government as their parents and grandparents did.
The best choice for the Miami Heat ownership appears to be to stay out of a political dogfight, but that could be hard for them to do.
"The simplest path was always to simply stay out of the politics of it," Cote wrote. "Unilaterally this week, the NBA made that impossible for the Heat."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.