Greg Cote

Celebration of Miami Heat championship unites a community

South Florida gathered to celebrate the most powerful basketball team on the planet, but it was the power of sports that was on full display Monday in downtown Miami. They called it a parade. It was closer to a party, a fiesta, and what it felt like was the biggest family reunion ever held. We were celebrating ourselves as much as we were any golden trophy, and it felt good.

We don’t always agree on much down here, do we? From politics to socioeconomics to race or ethnicity, so much in our diversity can divide us. But this Heat team and the NBA championship it just won served to knit us together and make a sprawling region feel more like a community.

Hundreds of thousands of fans coalesced to celebrate the title won four nights earlier, and everywhere you looked Monday all you saw was a beautiful thing called common ground, a cheering, bobbing, joyous sea of citizens, strangers suddenly neighbors, all on the same team.

What else but sports can make us feel this way collectively?

A line of 38 vehicles — red double-decker buses festooned with champion players, flatbed trucks, fire engines — wound through downtown to the steps of the bayside arena as cannons filled the air with confetti and fans did the same with swooning adulation.

A caravan of floats, a city floating on air.

There was the sense of a circle completed. This basketball season began on Christmas Day. Monday felt like Christmas morning.

MVP LeBron James was atop a double-decker bus capturing video on his cellphone, the miles of fans as impressive to him as he had been to them.

Old favorite Dwyane Wade stood high on a different bus, flanked by his two young sons, cradling the championship trophy with one hand and raising his other to coax the noise louder, louder, louder.

“Oh man, the joy this trophy brings!” Wade would say later.

The team is LeBron’s now. You were reminded in subtle ways, such as when James was introduced last Monday during an arena celebration that followed the parade. In more emotional ways the team will remain Wade’s, though, and so it seemed fitting the trophy rode with him.

Monday’s crowd was bigger than in 2006. That was the Heat’s first crown, but this one was more personal, somehow. This one seemed to involve us more viscerally.

It was the national hatred heaped upon LeBron and Miami when he left Cleveland two years ago. It was the mocking laughter that followed last year’s Finals loss. We were under siege. Monday brought the symbolic relief, the vindication. And if there was an shade of crowing involved, didn’t Miami earn that?

Walking to the arena Monday, the parade two hours away but the streets filling, I saw a man peddling a bicycle and shouting, “We told y’all, America! We told y’all!”

The bicyclist was Derrick Joseph, 29, from nearby Overtown. He had been steering with one hand and in the other waving a hand-drawn sign that read, “LeBron = King = Ring!” He said he hadn’t been to a single game all season. Said he couldn’t afford to. But that’s another beauty of sports. You needn’t ever buy a ticket or souvenir jersey to say “my team,” and have it be true. Pride is free.

Sports, when it is working just right, causes a symbiosis in which the support of fans is as important to players as the players are essential to fans.

“You are them, and they are you,” as club president Pat Riley told fans Monday.

After the main parade the Heat staged a separate arena celebration open only to season-ticket holders, an event carefully choreographed to a soundtrack of ear-numbing club music. And that was fine. Not quite two years earlier, after the Big 3 first came together, a similar celebration was held, but that was all conjecture. This was proof.

But it was out on the street, where one needed no season ticket for special access, where Miami’s love of the Heat shone through best.

“It was all for a moment like this,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of two year’s tribulation leading to Monday.

The parade was not without missteps. Some fans were disappointed it moved too quickly, taking just under an hour instead of the 90 minutes planned. Others complained there was no culminating presentation on the arena steps as there had been in ’06.

Such complaints seemed overwhelmed, though, by the larger joy you saw on fans’ faces, the spontaneous outbreaks of “Let’s go Heat!” chants, the hundreds of signs.

Cheers nearing bedlam decibels swelled at the sight of LeBron, or D-Wade, or Chris Bosh, or new hero Mike Miller, of the seven three-point shots in the clinching game. Appreciative applause greeted Micky Arison and Pat Riley, owner and architect, as they shared the upper deck of a bus along with their families.

Shane Battier came along banging a wooden spoon on the bottom of a cooking pot, celebrating Hialeah-style.

And here through the merry din came the float carrying Spoelstra, ballcap backward, leaning over to pound the top window of his double-decker bus. The coach had family in town. In front of him stood his 5 1/2-year old nephew, grinning and waving. (“I think he thought the parade was for him!” Spo would say later.)

Asked to describe what he was seeing and hearing atop that bus, Spoelstra said, “It will ring in your ears for so many days and years. It was surreal to see.”

This was the view and sound from the mountaintop, where the Heat — and, yes, their fans — now reside.

“It feels right. Like this is how it’s supposed to be,” said Bosh.

Everything feels set right now.

LeBron rises in NBA history, moving toward a place on the highest echelon of the sport, the place of the Michaels and Magics.

Trappings of a championship are immediate. Oprah Winfrey flew in to interview the Big 3 on Monday. James is featured Tuesday night on David Letterman.

A budding dynasty is implied, with the prerequisite first title now accomplished.

No matter what happens from here, though — no matter how many more parades could be in store — none will be quite like Monday’s.

Scorn and booing and laughter had come at us in unending waves for two years.

Monday none of it mattered. It ceased to be heard.

Monday, the only sound Miami could hear was its own joy.

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