The Heat asked their fans to wear white – and sing for the red, white and blue.
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With a video tribute, fans singing the national anthem and 10 military personnel – many in dress uniforms – unfurling a 50-foot flag at midcourt shortly before tipoff of Game 2 of the Miami-Boston Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Heat paid extra tribute to the military on Tuesday night.
The team ordinarily has a singer, performer or group sing ”The Star-Spangled Banner.” Not on Tuesday, which was the first Heat home game since U.S. forces killed Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
”Heat fans, Americans all over the United States are currently experiencing a renewed sense of patriotism,” team public-address announcer Michael Baiamonte said. ”And so, in the spirit of recognizing that which unites us, we ask that you please rise, remove your hats and raise your voices as we all sing our national anthem together.”
Most did. The arena was nearly full in the final minutes before tipoff, and many appeared to be singing. One woman seated several rows behind Heat President Pat Riley waved a small American flag.
”We’re so proud of all the men and women who sacrificed and serve for our country,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”We’re all able to do what we do because of them. You guys are all able to do what you do, and we are, and we don’t take that for granted.”
The Heat further altered its typical pregame program with a video slideshow, including shots of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in their 2008 U.S. Olympic uniforms and photos of their training camp at Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida’s Panhandle last fall.
The words to the national anthem also scrolled on the ribbon message boards in the arena.
Miami has honored military personnel returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan before its home games for the last five years, part of a program Riley founded and called ”Home Strong.” U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Henry Hernandez – who just returned from a one-year stint in Iraq – along with his wife, Julie, and their children, Alexa and Matthew, were Tuesday’s honorees at midcourt before tipoff.
”It is something close to our heart,” Spoelstra said. ”We started our season out at an Air Force base, really to support the men and women of service. And it’s a special time right now for our country.”