Horns blasted and pots and pans banged in the smallest hour of Friday morning while inside the nearly emptied Heat palace the newly reelected King strode a concrete hallway just off the court. An entourage of friends, family, arena employees and celebrating sycophants formed a slowly moving pack around LeBron James.
A large, unlit cigar jutted from LeBron’s smile.
His T-shirt bore the distinctive sweet/sour scent of sprayed bubbly.
(Ever notice how champion and champagne are almost the same word?)
James was a man on his mountaintop right then, living one of those snapshot moments that will make him grin forever. He was broadcasting a stream of consciousness to no one in particular, maybe to the world in general, his words prompted by no question, his victory cigar bobbing as he spoke.
“I love my team, man! Love my team!” he half-shouted. “I got the best team in the world on the floor and off the floor. I walk into that locker room some days and I just have to smile. …”
This did not sound like a man with any thoughts of leaving someday because this does not seem like a team with any reason to not keep winning.
LeBron plans to wed his fiancée, Savannah Brinson, later this year, but he already seems to have found the perfect marriage: That of a legacy-obsessed player who wants to collect championships and this regal Heat organization.
“The vision I had when I decided to come here is all coming true,” he would say later during his formal postgame interview session.
Miami’s latest NBA championship parade, its second in a row, will be Monday starting at 11 a.m., winding through downtown to the steps of the arena. That will bring another wave of noise and merry chaos bookending what bloomed from Game 7.
Take the weekend to savor the quiet, though, and to reflect, South Florida. To stop and appreciate.
What the Heat has given and is giving us is remarkable. These are the good, old days. This success is not unprecedented for us, no. The Dolphins from 1971 to ’73 reached three consecutive Super Bowls and won two in a row, the equivalent of what the Heat has now done. That was a lifetime ago, though. And the difference is those Dolphins had nobody who was the football equal of LeBron, and that Dolphins run abruptly ended.
This is LeBron in his prime and full powers. This might be just the start.
Look around at what’s become of our other biggest teams to further appreciate what we have in the Heat.
The Dolphins today remain stuck in a perpetual effort to revisit old glories and, now, to recapture their lost place in this market from the rampaging, sexy, star-filled Heat. The Dolphins, chained to the past, last gave us a championship parade 40 years ago and haven’t even been in a Super Bowl in almost 30.
The Marlins? Baseball here should be reinvigorated in that new ballpark but instead the club operates under the black cloud of a despised-again owner, a low-budget, worst-in-the-sport team, and a fan base either angry or beaten into apathy.
The hockey Panthers, 20 years in, remain a blip with a cult following, mostly irrelevant in the NHL as well as locally since the ever-receding halcyon year 1996.
Even at the college level, Miami Hurricanes football is long past its championship days and trying to bestow the swagger back to its impatient, hungry fans.
The Heat is it now. It has taken over the town. It has become so big (the LeBron Effect) that it is a national team, the way the Yankees are, the way the Cowboys used to be, the way the Lakers wish they still were.
And now the Heat stands taller than ever, because, if basketball had its own version of a Perfect Season, how could this not have been it for Miami?
The club’s 25th anniversary year features a franchise-record 66 regular-season wins, a history-challenging 27 victories in a row, a thrilling playoff run led by an MVP superstar, all of it ending in a second consecutive championship.
Who’d buy such a too-perfect fairy tale as that!
At the center of it all is LeBron, the Heat’s hopes surrounding him and following him the way that entourage did in the concrete hallways in Friday’s wee hours.
“I want to be, if not the greatest, one of the greatest to ever play this game,” he said.
So few athletes in any sport can dare say such a thing and not sound equal parts preposterous and presumptuous. With LeBron, it almost goes without saying.
Storyteller Pat Riley can be verbose, but other times he gets right to it.
“LeBron is the greatest player in the world,” he said on this cigars-and-champagne night.
When LeBron is hitting his outside shots and even threes to augment his inside power game, as he was Thursday, he is all but an unstoppable force.
“Yeah, I am,” he had to agree.
(What is the point of false modesty, anyway?)
What gets you about LeBron is how he leads by example, not just excellence.
“It’s probably unique for a guy who’s been the best in the game since he was in seventh grade,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Usually, you wouldn’t have the type of work ethic that would match that type of talent.”
Championship nights like this one cast the memory back for players and make them remember where they came from, and who they were before TV cameras and strangers began to know them.
LeBron said it was very emotional for him, addressing the crowd on live TV during the postgame coronation, when he said, “I’m LeBron James. From Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here.”
Dwyane Wade sat on the floor outside the locker room a little past midnight Thursday, just thinking, savoring, trying to record it all in his mind. A crush of media surrounded him, but he was alone.
“We go through life so fast. The championships I’ve won seemed like they went past me so fast,” he said later. “I wanted to take a minute, take a moment and just soak in being a kid from Robbins, Ill., from Marquette, and now having three championships.”
What Wade was doing was simply appreciating all he has.
What a perfect weekend for Heat fans — for South Florida — to do the same.