When the lights go down in AmericanAirlines Arena, Chris Andersen turns into a rain god and Mike Miller dances around his deity asking for a deluge.
Among the many pregame handshakes and rituals the Heat’s players perform before games — and there are some doozies — the interplay between Andersen and Miller is the most colorful … and not just because of all the ink the two players have tattooed on their bodies. There’s a secret handshake between the two friends, which is shrouded in comical mystery, and then there’s the rain dance.
Game 2 of the NBA Finals is at 8 p.m. on Sunday. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, do yourself a favor and ignore the pregame videoboard when the lights in the arena cut off. Instead, turn toward the Heat’s bench and watch Miller pray for rain. With the Heat trailing 1-0 to the San Antonio Spurs in the best-of-7 series, it might help if you yourself join in.
It starts when the guitar riff of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army begins that iconic rhythm. With the speakers blaring, Andersen, his Mo-hawk waxed and glistening, begins pumping his fist towards the rafters in time with the beat. It’s a call — a Bird call — for Miller to begin paying homage to the god of three-point shooters. Miller dances around Andersen like a chieftain.
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“It’s a little rain dance,” Miller said. “Make my threes rain down.”
Pagan idolatry never served a better purpose.
The rain dance is one of dozens of pregame rituals the Heat’s players have devised to spread fellowship throughout the team. James Jones and Rashard Lewis become Karate Kids. Ray Allen does that old-school dance “the running man” right before he gets in his pregame pushups.
Shane Battier is a special case. His entire day before a game is a detailed script. It includes, without fail — at home or on the road — drinking a bottle of San Pellegrino with his lunch, which he has to eat “at 12:15 p.m., exactly 12:15 p.m.”
Mario Chalmers has a different handshake for every player on the team. Miller, Allen and Chris Bosh run a post-up drill with a piece of trash at the scorer’s table. Udonis Haslem gives pinkie shakes with statisticians.
There are more and they all happen just before tip-off, those few seconds before the game begins when a little levity is needed to calm the nerves and remind everyone one important thing — it’s just a game.
“Everybody gets into their own world, and then we bring it all together when it’s game time,” Haslem said. “It’s whatever guys need to do to get into their world mentally and get themselves prepared and then it’s time to go.”
Sounds deep, right? Profound even — powerful stuff that only athletes and warriors embarking on a mission can understand. Don’t kid yourself. It’s all fun moments before the game. How else do you explain Jones and Lewis reenacting the famous one-foot crane scene from The Karate Kid?
“I don’t know why we started doing it,” Jones said. “We just did.”
That stock answer pretty much explains every ritual you’re going to see. There are some exceptions, of course. The odd handshake between Miller and Andersen before they take their seats on the bench includes both players wiping their noses. The meaning? Don’t ask, unless, of course, you want Andersen staring down at you with eyes that could make a tiger shrink away in fear.
“It’s a club,” Andersen said. “It’s blood in and blood out and I ain’t telling you the secrets.”
Blood in and blood out ... gotcha.
Miller has no problem explaining the details of the rain dance, but the secret handshake with Andersen is off limits.
“It’s a secret handshake,” Miller said. “I’m not giving you a story on a secret handshake. In fact, it’s rated ‘R,’ so it can’t go in the newspaper. That’d be a bad story, bro.”
So that one will remain a blood secret, but there are other handshakes that are rated ‘G.’ For example, Chalmers’ handshake with Miller was pulled from something Chalmers saw on TV between rapper E-40 and entertainer Jamie Foxx.
“It’s ‘no fingerprints,’” Chalmers said. “Me and Killer go ‘no fingerprints’ before the game.”
Basically, Chalmers and Miller — he’s called “Killer” by his teammates — tap (or tickle) their fingertips together and then give each other five.
LeBron James’ pregame chalk toss, a holdover from his days in Cleveland, was once the most recognizable pregame ritual in basketball. Of course, that routine wasn’t exactly organic. It coincided with an advertising campaign for Nike. James has given up the pixie-dust routine, but some of his current teammates have picked up the tradition in a sarcastic nod to James’ old ways.
Miller, Jones, and others sometimes throw excess chalk together before tipoff, but that’s not standard pre-game fare. On the other hand, the gag Miller, Bosh and Allen perform at the scorer’s table has worked its way into the nightly repertoire.
Miller rips off a sheet of the court’s sticky mat—before and during games, players wipe the soles of their sneakers on it to remove dust—and hands it to Bosh before posting up to Allen against the table. Bosh passes the waded up plastic to Miller, who then turns and shoots the trash over the table and through the arms of one of the Heat’s statistics keepers.
What’s the origin of that tradition? Once again, Miller was mum on the subject.
“I know the reason it started, but you can’t put it in the story,” Miller said. “We wouldn’t get any more calls from the refs.”
Better not go there. The Heat is going to need all the help it can get against the Spurs.