MIAMI » Farewell, Cleveland. Hello, Miami.
LeBron James never had 24 hours quite like this.
The decision. The letter. The arrival. The celebration. All filled with drama, all representing a new chapter for the two-time MVP.
"I understand now that I’ve made the right decision," James said.
A packed arena of Miami Heat fans, plus another 10,000 or so outside the building, couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear James say those words.
His acquisition by the Heat became official last night, not long after he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — the NBA’s newest superstar trio — arrived together in a spectacle typically reserved for rock concerts and award shows.
Dressed in a white Heat uniform for the first time, James took a look at his new home crowd, folded his arms across his chest after he and his teammates were dropped from the sky on a forklift, and nodded.
The MVP has taken center stage in Miami.
"We know what the fans want," James said.
In case there was some question, they told him: Yes. A "Beat L.A." chant broke out in July. Call it an opening salvo aimed at the two-time defending champion Lakers.
Great fanfare. Great expectations.
"It’s still surreal, man," Wade said. "Me, Chris and ‘Bron. We ready. We want to go to the gym now."
Wade was in the middle as the trio was lifted skyward for the entrance — Bosh on his right, James on his left. Bosh pointed to the fans and screamed, while Wade aimed his index fingers at the crowd and James strutted about to the fans’ delight.
They walked down the stairs to a long runway, slapping high-fives with fans, clapping their hands and soaking in the atmosphere.
"We wanted to come here, then LeBron wanted to come," Bosh said. "Let’s get it done, man. Let’s get this thing going."
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Heat continued working on sign-and-trade deals for both players, which were completed long after the event ended, around 11 p.m. The Heat sent two future first-round and two second-round picks to the Cavaliers for James, while packaging two first-round picks to the Raptors for Bosh.
Next up for Miami: deals for Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, both expected to be done in the coming days, and a planned meeting with Lakers point guard Derek Fisher.
"We here now," James said. "And we’re here for a long time."
Wade, Bosh and James all signed their six-year contracts earlier last night, each set to make about $2 million less than the $16.6 million they could have demanded for the coming season.
"They’re going to be here for a while," Heat president Pat Riley said, adding, "all three of these gentlemen up here are going to be here for a long time, and they’re going to be here for a long time for us to enjoy, thoroughly enjoy."
"I feel great now," James said. "The fans and this organization have put me back in a family-oriented place."
At the rally — which was announced yesterday afternoon, its 13,000 available seats still snatched up in an hour — fans were given posters with James, Wade and Bosh together in Heat uniforms — "Yes. We. Did." was the slogan in big white letters.
"When I look around and see No. 6 and No. 1 on the court with me, that’s when it’s going to see real," Wade said.
James will wear No. 6 in Miami, Bosh No. 1, both having switched their numbers. Wade considered swapping his No. 3 as well.
"Then I realized, three is magical, and now it represents more than just my number," Wade said. "It represents the three of us making sacrifices as well."