The NBA championship banner rose with slow majesty. The ring ceremony was as understated as one can be when the ring is a sparkling riot of diamonds the size of a hatbox. Heat players dripped with the color of success from the gold trophy on their warm-up jerseys to their gold-colored sneakers. And a jammed-full arena made downtown Miami swoon with a delightful noise that sounded like appreciation, like love.
Yes, the opening night pregame ceremony was great Tuesday night.
And then the really good stuff started.
The version of it played by this city’s home team.
It is the stuff that reminds us that a trophy and a parade might come with it, but that the real reward for Heat fans should be the eyewitness seat to this.
The routine of excellence.
Miami has two superstars of such a level that each has earned the utmost respect so both share it. That’s why LeBron James’ name was introduced last in the ring line, the chants of “M-V-P!” raining down as he jabbed his index fingers up toward the rafters, while Dwyane Wade’s name sentimentally was saved for last in pregame introductions, the sonic noise swelling at its mention.
The first quarter hadn’t finished when the two made their magic, a Wade dunk punctuating a perfect, delicately arced, alley-oop pass from James. Wade seemed frisky. Fit. What knee surgery? He climbed the air on that dunk as if those gold shoes had levitating powers.
Welcome back, fellas.
Heat 120, Celtics 107.
Boston had every reason to want this game more viscerally, from the pregame ceremony its players ignored to the defection of Ray Allen.
Miami had this: the better team.
This Big 3 of James and Chris Bosh added to Wade wasn’t put together to win once, and adding Allen was evidence the franchise has grown since 2006, when the club’s first title was followed by complacency, with too much satisfaction.
Symbolically, opening night after that first crown was marked by a down-to-earth rout loss to the Chicago Bulls.
“Last time was a little different,” as Wade put it after Tuesday’s win. “Different team, different mind-set.”
Wade’s 29 points, James’ 26 and 19 apiece from Allen and Bosh had the building as loud in the closing minute as it was at the start.
(It might have been a perfect night had NBA commissioner David Stern not elicited boos before hand by referring to Hurricane Sandy as “Katrina.”)
Soon after the LeBron/D-Wade alley-oop, we were reminded that this team is so damned good partly because this Bentley can go off road, too. This team running on star power and wearing the bling-bling rings and the gold shoes also can get dirty.
Sort of likes to, as a matter of fact.
So there was good soldier Udonis Haslem, standing, waiting, hands instinctively clasped over the one area a man least likes to get hit. And the Boston Celtics’ Jason Terry, he was not stopping.
Haslem, the sacrificer, took the charge and it knocked him backward.
Then he popped up so nonchalantly, expressionless, chewing his mouth guard as usual, as the referee pointed for Miami’s possession.
We’re used to all that, though, right?
Well, we weren’t used to this.
Something is fundamentally different about this team as Year 3 of the Big 3 begins, and it is the man who defected from the enemy.