The Miami Heat’s four-day postcard from this island chain in the Atlantic Ocean began Tuesday in a large ballroom outfitted with a pair of basketball courts, some stage lightning and a few scoreboards.
Yes, it was a little surreal.
The Atlantis Paradise Island Resort is an odd spectacle where reality gives way to manufactured fantasy. The place feels like a mix between Disney World, a Las Vegas casino, a Cheesecake Factory and a fish tank. Naturally, the Heat started training camp here in preparation for arguably the most anticipated season in the history of Miami professional sports.
A short walk from where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh began working their bodies back into shape, tourists swam with dolphins in a manmade lagoon, people flumed down a water slide built through the middle of a shark tank and, of course, Carnival cruise ships came and went from a harbor not too far away.
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“And the journey begins #LetsGoHeat #ItsBetterInTheBahamas #LetsGoHeat,” Heat owner Micky Arison wrote on Twitter at 2:19 a.m. Tuesday.
A few hours later, the familiar sounds of shoes chirping on hardwood announced the same thing, only more poetically.
“Training camp is to get things back committed to the system and start getting your body in shape,” James said. “It feels good to be back.”
The Bahamian tourism ministry has rolled out the red carpet for the Heat’s four-day stay on Paradise Island. A full marching band and a gaggle of colorfully dressed dancers welcomed the team plane at the airport with a parade.
Is it all too much, this latest spectacle surrounding a team that has operated in an alternate universe since the summer of 2010?
“You think we care about what people say?” James said. “This team? Nah, we don’t care about what people say. We’re a veteran ballclub. We don’t need to be told what to do. We show up to work and when we’re not working we enjoy ourselves. We don’t need to police ourselves. We don’t need to look after each other.”
The biggest misconception, said Bosh, is that this training camp is different than any other for the players. Sure, the support personnel that accompanied the team might be having fun here, but the players practiced twice Tuesday and were scheduled for another two-a-day Wednesday. In between, there are team meetings and therapy sessions. Unlike the preseason trip to China last year, players and coaches weren’t allowed to bring guests on this trip.
“We know what it is,” Bosh said. “I think a lot of our friends and family thought it was going to be something else because when you hear ‘Bahamas’ you automatically relax. We just hear ‘training camp,’ and we’re here to work and that’s all we’re thinking about.”
The Heat focused on its defensive principles on Tuesday with minimal time spent on offense. Such will be the case for most of training camp.
“That’s our staple,” James said. “We defend and we run. Obviously you can’t get it all back on Day One. You don’t want to burn out too much. You just get back into the rhythm of things. We’re a veteran ballclub and we know the system but want to go over it and work our habits.”
Lost in the Bahamian media circus Tuesday was the importance the day represented to Greg Oden, who joined the Heat this offseason. It was his first NBA practice since 2009. Oden is attempting a comeback from a career spent dealing with knee injuries. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his plan for Oden is “step by step; practice by practice; minute by minute.”
“So, he was able to do about a half hour of the work [Tuesday], the majority of it noncontact, and that was a big bonus and we’ll move on from here,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll meet with the training staff after this practice and see what his next step will be.”
Wade, who rested his knee this offseason for about a month after receiving shock wave therapy, participated in the Heat’s full workout session Tuesday morning.
“I was very encouraged,” Spoelstra said of Wade. “He is very fit.”
JORDAN VS. JAMES
James shrugged off comments made by Michael Jordan that he could beat James in a game of one-on-one.
In a promotional video for the video game NBA2K14, Jordan said he wouldn’t lose to any current players, except maybe Kobe Bryant “because he steals all my moves.” James, who is on the game’s cover, laughed about it. James is on the cover of NBA2K14.
“It was for my game?” James said of Jordan’s comments. “It’s a good promotion thing.”
James said “absolutely” he’s has thought about a matchup with Jordan, but “no one will ever see it and it’s not going to happen. But it’s good for people to talk about M.J. said that?”