Past the arena nightclub where VIPs partied and the music thump-thumped. Past the ushers-turned-fans pulling out cell phones to take pictures. Past NFL star Willis McGahee. Past basketball legend Bill Russell.
Past the TV cameras and reporters’ notebooks LeBron James walked down a hallway of AmericanAirlines Arena as Thursday turned to Friday and the dream turned into a celebration.
“I don’t even know how it feels!” LeBron said, laughing, to one of his boyhood friends walking with him. “I’ve never had this feeling before!”
Then, as he passed the locker room soaked in champagne and down another hallway, he asked the question they all would this night.
“Where’s Larry?” LeBron asked.
In Sunday’s paper – Don’t miss our commemorative Heat special section as we recap their march to the NBA title
Larry was why they came to this room. Every member of the Heat organization. Players. Coaches. Trainers. Front-office accountants. Team owner Micky Arison. Everyone.
A red-splashed backdrop hung from the ceiling in this converted room. A photographer stood before it. Their pictures were taken with the Larry O’Brien Trophy just awarded them as pro basketball’s champs. Already, they were on a first-name basis with the guest of honor.
“Look at this,” Chris Bosh said, when came his turn, holding Larry up to the light, admiring what took a career to hold.
He cuddled the golden-globed trophy like a baby. He kissed it. He then posed holding it with his wife, Adrienne — click — then his agent, Henry Thomas — click — then the media relations staff of the Heat — click — then some other front-office workers — click —and finally with himself.
“Ha!” Bosh said to no one, or maybe to everyone, considering these past two seasons.
He wasn’t tough enough? Ha! He wasn’t good enough? Ha! It was exactly a year ago Bosh collapsed outside in this hallway after losing to Dallas in the Finals. He kept himself together on the court, in public, forgetting the hallway had a camera that showed it to all America.
“I lived with that every time I walked down that hall,” Bosh said a few minutes earlier to the national media. “But I think it was good for me in the long run because I could watch every single day what we had to go through.
“So any time I was thinking about just taking a play off or taking some time off or not working that day, that day, doing the easy thing, I thought about that moment … and that helped me build my will, and it helped me to get to this point.”
Now he held that trophy with one hand. Click. He kissed it again. Click. He then waited for Adrienne to get their infant son, Jackson, who was born during this playoff run. A career achievement became a family portrait. Click.
They can win again next year. They can win several times in the coming years. Never will they have a night like this one. It goes beyond it being the first one. “Relief,” Pat Riley said he felt the night of the 2006 title, for all the burden that season brought. This relief was similar. Only the platform bigger.
There was LeBron getting his photo with the trophy and the inner circle of friends who grew up and traveled with him from Akron to Cleveland to Miami. There was Dwyane Wade kissing actress and girlfriend Gabrielle Union with the trophy.
It wasn’t just the big headline names. There was Andy Elisburg, a Heat lifer, a behind-the-scenes guy, the salary-cap wizard who helped make the Big Three’s deals work, getting his picture taken.
There, too, was Juwan Howard, who spent 18 years as a pro waiting to hold this trophy. He once was a lottery pick. Now he’s a reserve, a pro’s pro, who goes down as the only member of Michigan’s Fab Five to hold any championship trophy.
“Let’s all get in there,” he said to his wife and son.
Out in the hallway, the party went on. Confetti tracked through champagne-drenched carpet. Laughter rang. Early on the court, team president Pat Riley had asked, “Is it OK to have a party tonight?”
Here, one was in mid-fun. Arison walked by, shaking hands. Erik Spoelstra and his father. Assistant Ron Rothstein and his grandchildren.
Shane Battier wore the new, champion’s hat and T-shirt, clinking champagne glasses with his wife, Heidi. He was one of the complementary pieces that turned this series. Battier and Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers became the necessary supporting cast.
Battier talked of, “wandering in the NBA wilderness for 11 years.” He said this feeling was “the reason I came here this year and joined this team.” He then remembered something. He took his wife by the elbow.
“We’ve got to get our picture taken with the trophy,” he said.
They began through the crowded hall, past the ’06 exhibit and toward the room they all went this night wearing champions’ smiles.