There was a time when the Miami Heat chose to retire longtime star Tim Hardaway’s jersey at their home opener to help ensure the game would sell out.
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That was 2009. Just a little bit has changed in the past year.
No perks will be required to fill the building on Friday night when the Heat formally welcome two-time MVP LeBron James and All-Star Chris Bosh for the regular-season home opener against the rival Orlando Magic in a matchup of true NBA championship contenders.
”We’re ready to get it going,” Magic guard Vince Carter said.
So is just about everyone else involved, from either locker room.
Sure, the Heat will give away 20,000 T-shirts and commemorative game programs to fans who make it through the gates. It’s highly unlikely that anyone who plunked down money – big, big money in some cases – to see this game made the decision to attend based on any giveaways.
They came to see a show, the first act of what Miami expects to be a title-winning season.
”It’s going to be amazing, a lot of energy going through the building,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. ”That’s not going to shake Orlando. They’ve been there before. They’re one of the top teams in the East. They’ve been playing exceptionally well in the preseason. We can hope to use that for motivation. We’re not going to just come out and run away with the game because it’s our opening night at home.”
The Magic opened their season with a 112-83 win over Washington on Thursday night, before the quick flight down to Miami. The Heat are 1-1, having lost on Tuesday in Boston and then recovering to win in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Subplots are everywhere.
It’s still a big deal when Magic coach Stan Van Gundy returns to Miami, where he coached under Pat Riley and then took over Riley’s spot as head coach, only to be ultimately replaced by Riley 21 games into what became Miami’s championship season of 2005-06. It’s Quentin Richardson’s first game back in Miami after playing for the Heat last season. Haslem thought about joining the Magic this past summer.
They all take a back seat, of course, to that James-Bosh-Dwyane Wade trio that the Magic shared plenty of opinions about during the offseason. They were together in Miami for a whole 3 minutes, 17 seconds before Wade strained his right hamstring and hobbled off the court for what became a three-week absence that ended in Boston for the regular-season opener.
So while Miami fans will get their first look, in many ways, so will the Magic at Miami’s new Big 3.
”People know what our game is. It’s been the same game for three years. We’ll tweak it a little but they know our game,” Van Gundy said. ”With Wade not playing and not having those three guys together the whole preseason, they know all the players, but I don’t think any of us opposing coaches in the league know what the Heat’s game is.”
Whatever it is, their game will be good. And so, too, will Miami’s business game.
In what’s always been considered a football town, the Heat are hotter than perhaps ever before. A pair of courtside seats to the game against Orlando sold on StubHub.com for the whopping sum of $25,884, company spokesman Glenn Lehrman said.
StubHub’s data showed that the average price for any seat was $325. For last year’s opener against New York – and remember, the Knicks have a strong fan base in Miami with all the transplanted New Yorkers, plus are a draw because of the history between the franchises – the average ticket price was a mere $50, Lehrman said.
And while it is a rivalry – Orlando has won 15 of the last 20 meetings – it’s not exactly one where players expect things to get overheated.
At least, not yet.
”It’s like Duke-Carolina,” said Carter, a proud former Tar Heels standout. ”We get along with them. But we want to beat them.”
Carter didn’t spend much time during the preseason studying what Miami did, and he said he didn’t watch James’ ”The Decision” show where he picked the Heat to bring a dramatic end to a whirlwind free-agent period that saw him bid farewell to the Cleveland Cavaliers after seven seasons.
Instead, Carter thinks many players would agree with him on this point: It’s simply time for the teams to play, and at this point in the season, few words beyond that need to be said.
”I’m ready to see what we do,” Carter said.
Miami’s home fans are as well, as many will see Wade, James and Bosh together for the first time. There’s a pregame concert featuring rapper Pitbull, legendary saxophonist Clarence Clemons set to play the national anthem, and a crush of celebrities expected.