Before the quest for a third consecutive title could begin, before the rest of the bolstered Eastern Conference foes began their attempts to replace the Heat on the top of the mountain, before the 2013-14 season could begin, there was one final exclamation point to add to the 2012-13 season.
A new banner now looks down on the floor of AmericanAirlines Arena.
It reads, “Champions! 2013.”
Before tipping off this season against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, the Heat finally closed the book on last year’s victorious season with a pregame championship ring and banner ceremony.
“They get better every year,” Dwyane Wade said of his third championship ring.
The rings, which lack nothing but moderation, depict two golden Larry O’Brien trophies in the center with “HEAT” spelled in diamonds in the foreground.
Each ring uses 1 1/2 carats of special long-cut diamonds just to spell the team’s name, in addition to the 242 round-cut diamonds that frame the entire scene.
The gold and diamonds glisten against the backdrop of black onyx, pushing the total of precious stones over 10 carats.
The words “WORLD CHAMPIONS” appear above and below the trophies, and the side of each ring features the name of the player and another depiction of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, this time encircled with the phrase “BACK TO BACK.”
Tuesday’s ceremony began with an introduction of the coaching staff before a video projection on the AmericanAirlines Arena floor allowed the fans to relive the near-impossible circumstances the Heat overcame in last year’s NBA Finals.
The voice of ESPN play-by-play man Mike Breen summoned memories of Game 6: “The San Antonio Spurs are 28 seconds from winning another NBA championship!”
The highlight montage that followed included Ray Allen’s unforgettable step-back three-pointer from Game 6 and select moments from Game 7, culminating in images of players celebrating their title victory.
When the lights came back on, the pulsating rhythm of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army filled the arena.
The public address announcer called the name of each player, who walked to center court to receive his ring and a handshake from NBA commissioner David Stern in front of the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Chris Bosh, Wade and LeBron James were the last names called, garnering the lion’s share of the crowd’s cheering.
After each player had received his ring, the banner was raised to Queen’s We Are the Champions.
Mike Miller and Jarvis Varnado, who are no longer with the team, were invited to attend the ceremony, but both declined.
Some had wondered if the celebration of last year would affect the emotions of Tuesday’s game.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra addressed the issue before the game, noting that this group has dealt with distractions since its inception.
“You just have to compartmentalize,” Spoelstra said. “We have had to learn to do that for four straight years and in so many different circumstances. You just hope that helps you. We have always had to deal with something outside of the game, and that is just something that you can’t control.”
If there was a championship hangover Tuesday, it certainly didn’t last long. While the Bulls jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead, the Heat led at the end of the first quarter and was up 19 at halftime.
“We do want to respect the night, especially for our fans and the organization,” Spoelstra said before the game. “We want to respect it, but we do have to understand what is coming after that.”
What is coming, now that last year is officially dead and buried, is a focus on this season and an attempt to secure a Heat dynasty.