Saying he enjoyed his job at CBS but that his heart was with the Miami Heat, Billy Cunningham announced Friday he would leave the television network to stay with the NBA expansion team.
Cunningham was one of the driving forces, along with managing partner Lewis Schaffel and local promoter Zev Bufman, in getting an NBA team awarded to Miami. But his contract as an analyst with CBS stipulated that he relinquish his 10 percent share of the Heat before next season, when the Miami franchise begins play."It was a situation that at first I thought was going to be a difficult decision," Cunningham said from his Philadelphia home. "I enjoyed very much what I was doing with CBS, working with Dick Stockton and that whole crew, but in reality it did not become very much of a difficult decision for me.
"Especially when I got involved in the college draft, the dispersal draft and the hiring of a coach, I knew where my heart was."
Cunningham, a former star player and coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, will not have a title with the Heat. He will not be involved with day-to-day operations.
At a news conference Tuesday to announce the hiring of Ron Rothstein as the coach of the franchise, Cunningham said he would need about a week to make his decision. But Thursday, he met with Neal Pilson, president of CBS Sports, and executive producer Ted Shaker, and told them he was leaving.
Cunningham had worked with Stockton throughout the year as the No. 1 announcing team for CBS telecasts of NBA games.
Cunningham played a major role in the selection of Rothstein, and also had input into the college and expansion draft. The Heat selected Syracuse center Rony Seikaly with its first selection in the college draft.
"Just seeing . . . two and a half years ago . . . when it was just a thought or concept of a few men," Cunningham said of the Heat, "Now seeing it becoming a reality, the support of the community, the excitement it's generating. I feel great. It was something that at first I thought it was going to be a tough decision, then I realized it wasn't really."