LeBron James has taken center stage in Miami dressed in his new uniform as the Heat welcomes the NBA’s newest trio of superstars.
With 13,000 fans chanting “Yes We Did!” Friday amid an atmosphere more suited to an awards show or rock concert than a basketball game, the Miami Heat put on a celebration unlike just about any other in team history.
James, Heat favorite Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all arrived accompanied by plumes of smoke, lifted into the air on a forklift for their grand arrival.
“It’s still surreal, man,” Wade said earlier. “Me, Chris and ‘Bron. We ready. We want to go to the gym now.”
Wade was in the middle as the trio was lifted skyward for the entrance — Bosh on his right, James on his left. Bosh pointed to the fans and screamed, while Wade aimed his index fingers at the crowd and James strutted about to the fans’ delight.
They walked down the stairs to a long runway, slapping high-fives with fans, clapping their hands and soaking in the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Heat continued working on ways to make sign-and-trade deals for both players, plus try to clear space for Udonis Haslem — Wade’s teammate for seven seasons and someone the 2006 NBA finals most valuable player wants back for the next chapter.
The “Three Kings,” Heat broadcaster Eric Reid called them as the program got under way an hour behind schedule, presumably because of the trade talks. Keys to the city were set to be awarded to each star, and Gov. Charlie Crist was in the stands, along with several city and county officials.
Heat president Pat Riley — the mastermind of the deals — and coach Erik Spoelstra sat in the stands, as did owner Micky Arison, all of them beaming.
Fans were given posters with James, Wade and Bosh together in Heat uniforms — “Yes. We. Did.” was the slogan in big white letters — and crowded around a runway surrounded by video screens and smoke effects.
If Riley gets his way, the party will be the first of many for the NBA’s newest star cluster — a grouping everyone, even Wade, is still getting used to.
“When I look around and see No. 6 and No. 1 on the court with me, that’s when it’s going to see real,” he said.
Until now, No. 6 meant Mario Chalmers, No. 1 meant Dorell Wright.
Chalmers will be back (wearing No. 15, his college number, probably) and Wright still could return, but going forward those digits belong to others.
James will wear No. 6 instead of his usual 23. Bosh will don No. 1 instead of No. 4, Wade said, because he “wanted a new beginning.”
And even Wade — who considers his No. 3 sacred — thought about switching his number as well.
“Then I realized, three is magical, and now it represents more than just my number,” Wade said. “It represents the three of us making sacrifices as well.”
Wade and Bosh decided Tuesday that they would play together in Miami, releasing that information to the world on Wednesday. With that, it was all up to James, who said he decided Thursday morning — hours before his made-for-TV announcement special that night — that he’d join the Heat and form a power triple.
Turns out, some members of the Heat family had more than an inkling that James was coming long before that show.
“I knew this was going to evolve a while ago,” Heat executive Alonzo Mourning said Friday. “We knew a long time ago. We did our due diligence on our recruiting trip, and we had a good feeling about this. When we came back, we knew that it pretty much was going to evolve in our favor.”
Miami landed three of the top nine scorers in the league last season, the two-time reigning NBA MVP in James, kept their own superstar (who said he wouldn’t have stayed if either Bosh or James hadn’t come to Miami) and gave fans reason to hope that the franchise’s wild pendulum — NBA’s best in 2006, NBA’s worst in 2008 — is clearly on a decided upswing.
“It’s going to take all of us to do it,” Wade said.
In Miami, the scene was sheer bliss on Friday.
James’ jerseys weren’t even going on hangers inside the Miami team store; for the most part, they were getting sold as soon as they could be taken out of the box. A line of fans snaked around the arena on a steamy morning just to put their names on a waiting list for tickets. The switchboard at AmericanAirlines Arena was overwhelmed for much of the day, and the 13,000 free seats for the welcoming bash were made available online and were gone in an hour.
“The road to history,” James wrote early Friday on Twitter, “starts now.”