Cole looks to give Heat lift on championship ride

When the rookie guard out of Dunbar High School came off the bench late in the first quarter Tuesday night, Miami was down by 13 points. When he returned to the sidelines 6½ minutes later, the Heat trailed the Thunder by just two.

In that short span Cole scored on a driving layup and then made back-to-back 3-pointers.

Along with his eight points, he had two rebounds in Miami’s 104-98 win.

That gives the Heat a 3-1 lead in the series and puts them on the cusp of the title heading into tonight’s game at home.

After Tuesday’s game, James Jones, the Heat’s veteran forward, told reporters: “The man of the hour is Norris Cole ... He picked us up tonight.”

But if you think that was something, you should see the lift he’s capable of giving his team when, rather than coming off the bench, he’s behind the wheel.

He could cram the Heat’s Big Three, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, along with another three or four players into his fabled Green Machine — a 1993 Chevy van with a Dayton Dunbar decal pasted on the back, a Paul Sherry emblem on the side and more than 200,000 miles on the odometer — and give them all a slooooow, but truly magical ride around town. And maybe even carry them straight to that NBA title that eluded them last year.

As Diane Cole, Norris’ mom, said by phone Wednesday afternoon from Miami: “Any story on Norris has GOT to include that van.”

Her husband, Norris Sr., agreed: “It’s the championship van. Every title Norris has ever won — back to when he was playing for the Salvation Army and in junior high and those two state titles at Dunbar, and even when his Uncle Lawrence coached Tennessee State to an Ohio Valley Conference title and his Uncle Johnnie won the SWAC title at Texas Southern — that van was there. It really is a championship van.”

And that’s why tonight, as the Heat look to kayo OKC, that van will be parked just outside American Airlines Arena between Gates 1 and 2. It’s been there for much of the playoffs.

It is considered a good luck charm in Miami, so much so that Heat fans, some of the players like Shane Battier and even team owner Micky Arison have stopped by to sign it.

The theme of the playoffs for the Heat has been “White Hot” and the team found a way to make sure the Coles’ green van fit the color motif. All the messages and signatures that are being added are being done with a white marker. The entire vehicle — windows, side panels, tires, headlamps, even the Chevy emblem on the grille — bears signatures and sayings, many in English (“Cole Train,” “Cole Blooded”), others — like “Si Se Puede! Vamos Heat!!” (Yes we can!! Let’s go Heat) — in Spanish.

“Every championship I’ve ever won I had the van there,” Norris told Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post after practice the other day. “The team thought it would be a good idea to bring it down here and continue the winning tradition.”

To Norris, The Green Machine is like an old friend.

“We got it when he and his sister Deonna were little kids,” Norris Sr. said. “Back then we were looking for an automobile that would fit the needs of what we wanted to do as a family and it did.

“When I look at it now, it makes me want to pay tribute to all the parents who take their kids to basketball practice, football practice and soccer practice. And to families that go on vacation together. This van got us all to a lot of places and in the end Norris has ended up at the very top of his chosen profession. Sometimes dreams do come true.”

“It’s a blessing,” Diane chimed in.

And the van has had a couple of moments in the spotlight before, she said.

Both times Norris and his Dunbar teammates won the state title — including the first championship in 2006 when Oklahoma City Thunder guard Daequan Cook was a senior for the Wolverines — The Green Machine rolled through the streets of Dayton in the victory parade.

Although Norris Sr. said until a few months ago he still used the van to go to work at Good Samaritan Hospital, as well as run errands around town and tote his clubs to the golf course, the championship machine has been sputtering toward retirement.

“Some people told us to get rid of it, that it was a piece of junk, Diane said with a laugh. “But we knew there was another championship on the horizon and we wanted the van to be a part of it.”

Although Norris Sr. said he didn’t want to get ahead of himself — “there’s still work to be done,” — he said he hopes they would be able to include The Green Machine in a victory parade through Miami.

But would it run well enough for such festivities?

“Sure, it’s drivable,” he said.

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t want to be behind him when he’d driving it,” Diana laughed.

Maybe not, but as long as young Norris was around, you would be just fine.

After all, whenever he’s involved, The Green Machine always takes you on a championship ride.

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