The city that invented the Perfect Season felt perfect again Monday. Sometimes in life (not often enough), everything works out just like you’d hoped. Maybe even a little bit better! The sun sweeps away the rain and strangers suddenly look like neighbors. This is the power of sports.
We just saw it again.
Felt it as much as saw it.
South Florida gathered in downtown Miami on Monday to celebrate a second consecutive Heat championship and what we saw was a diverse, often fractured stew of various languages, colors and socioeconomic backgrounds knit together for the same reason. All of the walls that can separate us dissolved.
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The Heat won a franchise-record 66 games this season, won a history-challenging 27 in a row at one point, and capped all of that with yet another NBA championship, but of course the team’s greatest accomplishment was what we saw again Monday, first in a championship parade through downtown streets, and later in an arena celebration for season-ticket holders.
“We give the city something where everybody can come together and cheer for the same team,” as native son Udonis Haslem put it. “Cheer for the same thing.”
Too much can pull us apart, but the right team can mend and heal. The right team can turn a “region” into a community, but only when everything works out just like you’d hoped, just as it has for our basketball team on its 25th anniversary.
So we threw ourselves a parade, with tens of thousands of fans lining city streets to cheer a cavalcade of red double-decker buses and flatbeds carrying Heat players-turned-heroes. I spoke to some fans who’d awakened as early as 4 a.m. to get their spots right near the barricades.
They cheered as LeBron James rode past Freedom Tower, a giant victory cigar jutting from his smile.
“The ultimate,” LeBron called the panorama. “This is what I came here for.”
Dwyane Wade rode separately, flanked by his young sons, his T-shirt reading ‘#3 For #3’ — his uniform number and, now, his number of titles won in Miami.
“This is my home,” said Wade from atop his moving bus. “I’ll be here the rest of my life in this amazing city ...”
Chris Bosh was a couple of vehicles back, cradling the golden championship trophy as if it were a newborn baby.
The crowd roared as popular Chris “Birdman” Andersen flapped his arms in a wingspan.
Ray Allen kept patting his open palm on his chest, trying to return the love he was hearing from the cheering masses.
Confetti filled the air, glinting in the sun.
Fans jammed every level of the Bayside parking garage.
The parade, open to all, finished along Biscayne Boulevard in front of the waterfront arena, and then the lovefest segued inside for a celebration limited to season-ticket holders.
Club president Pat Riley danced a little jig when introduced to an ovation.
Wade called LeBron “the best bleepin’ player on the planet” as the crowd swooned anew.
LeBron? He was introduced last and stood at the very edge of the stage, his arms raised high and wide like a heavyweight champion exalting in the ring, the snapshot befitting his nickname that is at once so-presumptuous and so lived-up-to: King.
He let the adulation wash over him.
The crazy thing is, all of this had been envisioned by Riley when he first joined the club as its head coach. (Not LeBron, who was 10 years old then. But the rest of it.)
I don’t mean envisioned in the general sense.
I mean envisioned literally.
The date was Sept. 2, 1995, at Riley’s introductory news conference. He was 50 years old then, a superstar coach, and signing him was the biggest thing that had ever happened to the Heat.
“I imagine in my mind the symbolic championship parade,” Riley said that day. “Maybe right down Biscayne Boulevard.”
The event was held on a cruise ship called Imagination, as if that weren’t too good to be true.
Riley was introduced onboard that ocean liner in a large room called the Dynasty Lounge, as if THAT weren’t too good to be true, too.
Lobster, shrimp and caviar were served. Riley was a rock star, signed to a $3 million a year deal.
“I’m going to earn it. Believe me,” he said that day.
He earned it. His vision of that championship parade along Biscayne Boulevard has now been realized three times, first as head coach with the maiden championship in 2006, and the past two seasons as club president and chief architect.
Riley is 68 now, and the man whose audacious vision aligned LeBron and Bosh with Wade isn’t finished yet.
Coach Erik Spoelstra told a Riley story on Monday. This happened during the recent NBA Finals, after Miami had played terribly and lost Game 3 in San Antonio to fall behind 2 games to 1.
“I was despondent,” said Spoelstra. “Beside myself.”
There came a knock on the door of Spoelstra’s hotel suite.
His mentor and boss was standing there holding three bottles of wine.
“Coach, what do you need me to do?” said Riley.
Mentor and protégé broke down game-film together most of that night, Riley explaining later, “I knew exactly what he was going through, what he was feeling. I’d been there.”
The two men embraced on Monday, after the parade and before the arena celebration. Warm smiles were exchanged. No words were necessary.
Sometimes in life, everything works out just as you’d hoped.
Maybe even a little better.