So there was Ray Allen, up off the Heat bench for the first time, peeling off his warm-up jersey, the decibels in the building rising with recognition.
The former Celtics star entered the game for the first time with 2:45 left in the first quarter, after first graciously hugging Boston coach Doc Rivers and a few others on the visitors’ bench. Celtics star Kevin Garnett, angry like most of Boston that Allen left in free agency, ignored his kindness. Allen tapped him on the shoulder just the same.
A minute later, Allen popped a three-point shot — something he does better than anyone ever — and he responded with that facial expression of his that can be so annoying if he’s wearing the wrong uniform but that fans love wrapped in the right colors.
You know it. That sneer. It is ours now.
A bit later, Allen stood on the free-throw line (he made both) and as he did a sweet spontaneity arose from the crowd. Maybe it was instant love for Allen. More likely it was meant as a knife turning in Celtics guts. Either way, I might remember it next time somebody tries to tell me how lousy Miami sports fans are.
“We got Ray!” sang the crowd, again and again. “We got Ray!”
What a couple of days for South Florida sports, right?
Our two biggest teams, cresting, preening.
The resurgent Dolphins, down for so long, winners of three consecutive games and in the playoff hunt — yes, the playoff hunt! — with Sunday’s stomp-down rout of the hated rival New York Jets up there.
And now the Heat starting back up in the bayside gym, placing a final bow on the 2012 championship, then rejoining the hard path that would make it one of many.
“The hunger changes,” as the cerebral Bosh put it. “It’s the difference between starving and greedy.”
Starving means you want so badly to taste your first championship.
Greedy means it tasted so good, you have to have more.
Miami is favored to win a second consecutive championship mostly because James — a reigning league and Finals MVP in his prime — is the best player playing his best. He has such a sense of history and his place in it, and at 6-8 and 260 pounds he is strong enough to carry a team, to lift a city.
“I know what my passion is,” James said the other day, to the notion he can relax now that the elusive first ring finally is his.
“I’m not satisfied winning just one. I want that feeling back.”
Enjoy the ride, South Florida.
It feels like maybe it has only just begun.