Miami Is Where NBA Dreams Are Made
MIAMI -- Welcome to the NBA's new Hollywood, where dreams really can come true.
The city of Miami erupted with fireworks, both literally and figuratively, Thursday night when megastar LeBron James made his much-anticipated Decision, turning South Florida into the center of the basketball universe.
By joining already-committed free agents Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat, James sent a wave through the sports world that devastated Cleveland, disappointed other suitors but set Miami ablaze, from the beaches to the sports bars.
Bosh watched "The Decision'' of James from a very-rich, private party at "The W," the posh South Beach hotel where security in the lobby made it look like a Presidential visit.
James was expected to arrive in Miami early Friday morning, well before dawn and join Bosh and Wade at "The W,'' where fans are lining up across the street hoping to catch a glimpse.
While Bosh watched from his suite, hundreds gathered around the television sets in the various lounges and restaurants spread throughout the Bayside Market Place, a block from American Airlines Arena, which will house the Heat and its expected Dream Team Dynasty.
They don't turn down the volume on the music very often in Hooters at Bayside, but they did Thursday night long enough to hear James say the words "South Beach,'' which prompted a sustained roar all around the restaurant that drowned out his subsequent explanation and much of the rest of the televised interview.
"This is the greatest thing that could have possibly happened for sports in this city,'' said Heat fan Chris O'Brien, who came to Hooters wearing his No. 23 James Cavaliers jersey. "We've got the King now.''
They were celebrating at almost every business within the Bayside complex Thursday night. Even the tourists who weren't fans of the Heat joined in the fun.
"Every game now will be like a Lakers game here,'' said Alex Arnau, manager at Hooters. "I don't know if people understand what this will mean for all the businesses here. Before games, after games, during games, this place will be hopping now.''
From the Island Queen boat tour to the Mobile Spa, employees were slapping hands in celebration of the James announcement that he was coming to Miami.
"This is bigger than Shaq coming (in 2004), because everyone knew that wouldn't last very long,'' said Maurice Stanley, a security guard at the Bayside Market who left his post to watch the announcement at Hooters. "With Shaq, we got one championship. This time it means three or four championship parades with LeBron and Wade.''
The Heat didn't open their ticket windows after the announcement because they had stopped selling season tickets earlier in the day, telling prospective buyers that they only could put their names on a waiting list.
There were hundreds watching the James announcement on the giant screen on the front of the American Airlines Arena Thursday night, erupting when they heard James tell the nationwide audience where he was playing next.
Within seconds, dozens of cars and trucks and motorcycles were circling AAA, blowing horns, waving Heat flags and slapping hands -- like an NBA title had just been won.
Two hours after the announcement, the crowd was only growing larger. Cars were stopping in the street to honk, saluting the signage outside the building, especially the "Welcome to Wade County'' slogan.
Earlier in the afternoon, there were eight television trucks parked out front of the Arena, waiting for the crowds to arrive, preparing for their live sports shows at 6, 10 and 11 p.m. It was an event worth waiting for.
All day, there was a steady stream of fans stopping by the Heat's ticket office, mostly just to talk. By late afternoon, maintenance workers were putting up yellow metal barriers outside the ticket window, hoping to help keep things orderly.
Even homeless Bobby -- who couldn't remember or didn't know his last name -- sitting on a sleeping bag on the sidewalk outside the food bank on NE 8th St, just a few blocks away, smiled at the mention of LeBron Thursday afternoon. By 10 p.m., he was asleep in the same place, likely secure in the knowledge that The King was coming.
Heat president Pat Riley, who orchestrated the coup that landed all three free agents, issued a statement after the James announcement. "... The journey has just begun,'' Riley said.
For the fans, it was a night to celebrate what the Heat had accomplished, the beginning of what is expected to be a long and wonderful relationship.
"This really is a big deal,'' said Nitron Stork, an assistant football coach at nearby Booker T. Washington High School. "Just having someone like LeBron in our town, if filters down to all the kids, and that's a good thing for everyone here.''