Haters, keep on hating. Miami is still celebrating.
The Miami Heat, NBA champions once again, soaked up the adoration of throngs of cheering fans who gridlocked Miami Monday as the team took a victory lap through downtown and into the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Families arrived at midnight for front-row spots. Workers called in sick with faux illnesses. And fans found creative, if not illegal, ways to grab a better view of King James and the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“Miami parties better than any city in the world,” said Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra.
And they’re getting used to it at this time of year.
Monday’s championship parade was the third in seven years for the team and city, and the second in a row, which puts the Heat in an exclusive class in the National Basketball Association. Only five other franchises have won back-to-back titles.
It was the type of celebration League and Finals MVP LeBron James had in mind when he signed with the Heat three years ago, to be introduced at the arena with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a pyrotechnic party that at the time was mocked around the nation. The criticisms only grew louder after the team lost in the finals that year.
And even this year, media critics said another year without a championship would be a failure for a team that James himself predicted would win multiple titles. But James, who led the crowd Monday in a chant of “I ain’t got no worries,” is now a two-time champion. He gets to answer questions like, “Which one is your favorite?”
“I love em’ both, man” he said. “They always say you love your first more than the second, but that second one was sweet as well.”
Inside the arena, Heat players talked about winning a franchise-best 66 games, and 27 straight, the second-longest streak in league history. Shane Battier even wore his “horsestronaut” mask, which he donned in the team’s viral Harlem Shake video this year.
Some players were already talking three-peat.
“We’re going for three in a row,” said Miami native James Jones.
Team president Pat Riley talked history.
“It really is about respect,” Riley said to season ticket holders. “You don’t merely want to be considered the best of the best in anything you do. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do. You separate yourselves from the pack. And I don’t think there’s any doubt they’ve separated themselves from the pack this year. And their names are going to be respected and honored.”
The first to do so was Miami-Dade’s Board of County Commissioners, which proclaimed Monday Miami Heat 2013 Champions Day.
Outside, Heat fans didn’t need a proclamation to know what day it was. They flooded downtown, jamming highways and city streets for hours. Commuters were held up as well as revelers, some of whom didn’t make it to the arena in time to claim their seats.
Even cruise liners were delayed, including those belonging to Carnival Cruise Lines. Heat owner Micky Arison is the chief executive of Carnival’s parent company.
“I’m not real into basketball anyway, but this pissed me off,” said Sarah Merry, 17, of Columbus, Ohio, one of a dozen nervous cruise travelers who abandoned their airport shuttle and lugged suitcases down trash-strewn Biscayne Boulevard to get to the port after the parade was over.
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said in an email Monday afternoon that the cruise operator delayed the departure of the Carnival Victory and Carnival Imagination to accommodate late cruisers.
For Heat fans, only those who left their homes before dawn got prime spots along the parade. Others scrambled for a better view, like Natalie Giraldo, who received a trespassing warning from a Miami police officer after climbing a railroad crossing in front of the Freedom Tower along with dozens of other fans.
“I took so many pictures, there were so many people. It was awesome,” Giraldo said.
Crowds were dense along the parade route, held under an intense summer heat. Still, police said they made no arrests, and had no issues with book bags, which were banned. Paramedics made seven trips to the hospital for minor issues, according to a Miami Fire Rescue spokesman, who thought the relatively small number of calls had to do with overcast skies and a brief rain that delayed the parade for a half hour.
But at 11:30 a.m., after hours of traffic jams on downtown streets and Interstate 95, the victory procession started.
The players, riding atop double-decker tour buses and semi-truck flatbeds, began their victory lap at Calle Ocho and Second Avenue and then headed east to Brickell Avenue. They then crossed the Miami River and traveled north to the arena on Biscayne Boulevard. Clouds of confetti hung overhead.
Bosh clutched the Larry O’Brien trophy. Chris “Birdman” Andersen flapped his arms to rile the crowd as if he were a professional wrestler. Wade straddled the edge of a bus and held up three fingers, for each of his three championships, going back to the 2006 season.
“This one is special,” he said.
Arison tweeted out pictures of the crowd and storm cloud that threatened to open up a second time but never did.
The parade traveled slowly, perhaps a response to the brisk pace last year that led to complaints from fans who wanted to see more of their team. These are, after all, fanatics, who wore expensive jerseys, bad Birdman mohawk and wing imitations.
Calvin Marshall paid $100 to have “HEAT” shaved into the side of his head. A man who would only give his first name, Winston, told his work he had a toothache to make the parade. Patricia Lawrence, 48, screamed with excitement at the thought of James, her “baby daddy,” getting off the bus to shake hands.
“If he touches me I will not wash this hand!” she said.
The Samuels family even drove from their new home in Georgia to make the parade, because, heck, it’s tradition now.
“Our 6-year-old son [Jayden] knows the team back and forth, all the stats,” said dad Winston Samuels, a doctor.
And The InterContinental Miami, in perhaps the most coordinated celebration, temporarily pulled the culinary accoutrements from its executive kitchen to make sure pots and pans were included.
Rev. Abraham J. Thomas, a superfan known as “Heat Man,” carried a two-sided sign. One side said: “The Larry R. O’Brien Trophy Will Be Residing Here For The Foreseeable Future!”
The flip side read: “You’re Not Full, Still Hungry! Come Back Rested And Ready To Win It All Again!”