MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James held his index finger aloft, then turned and took a walk nine years in the making.
A few moments later, a championship ring — finally — was his.
James and the Miami Heat celebrated their NBA title once again Tuesday night, with the ring-and-banner ceremony replete with an indoor fireworks show that immediately preceded their season opener against the Boston Celtics.
NBA Commissioner David Stern handed Heat owner Micky Arison the first ring of the night, and Arison handed the others out to executives, coaches and players.
James went last, as the crowd roared for the reigning NBA MVP.
“It’s not given,” James said earlier Tuesday. “These moments are not given.”
Stern gave brief remarks to the crowd, starting his address by mentioning “those who were affected” by Hurricane Sandy, which struck the East Coast earlier this week. (Stern misspoke and referred to the storm Hurricane Katrina, though his point was clear.) He congratulated Heat executives and coaches, then lauded Miami’s players.
“And congratulations to the Miami Heat fans,” Stern said.
The only player to address the crowd was veteran Mike Miller, who spoke after warmups.
“We want to thank you guys so much for all your support,” Miller said. “Without you guys, a night like tonight’s not possible. The journey that starts tonight is going to be even more challenging, so we’re going to need your passion, your support and your energy even more. Enjoy the game tonight and let it fly.”
The rings had the words “All In” on one side, and “Family” underneath two images of the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the other. James hugged Stern briefly as the commissioner said a few words, then got a few words from Arison before checking out the box that held his newest bauble.
Players posed for a quick photo as the banner started being raised, then James and others took their rings out to examine the detail. He touched the banner as it rose behind him, then went back to checking out the ring.
Soon, they were put away, the lights came on, and the season started.
“I think we all know what another year’s all about,” James said. “We know what our long-term goal is. But we’re not going to take any short cuts. It’s a process. It’s always been that way for us.”
The pursuit of a title is what drove James every year since joining the NBA in 2003, and he had been close twice, ultimately falling in his first two trips to the NBA Finals.
His breakthrough came last June, and James capped his stellar postseason with a triple-double in Game 5 of the finals against Oklahoma City, as the Heat capped off the second title in franchise history.
“I’m not going to take this moment for granted,” James said. “It doesn’t happen to everyone. I know the history of the game. I am going to live in the moment. Not going to sit here and say I’m not. It’s a special moment for not only our team, for our organization, for the city, whoever’s a Miami Heat fan, our families, everything. We’ll live in the moment, but we also have some other business to take care of as well.”
In the long term, that means another title.
In the short term, that meant getting ready for Boston.
Miami’s first ring night was an unmitigated disaster — a 108-66 loss to the Chicago Bulls after the 2006 championship jewelry was issued. The Heat were on the other end of a banner blowout last Christmas in Dallas, where in a finals rematch they ran out to a 35-point lead shortly after halftime.
The Heat were clearly inspired by having a chance to put a damper on Dallas’ day. And they expected the Celtics to feel the same way, after Miami ousted Boston in last season’s Eastern Conference finals and then lured Ray Allen away in a free-agency coup over the summer.
“We were hoping that Oklahoma was playing Miami on opening night to watch ring night,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I don’t know why they chose us. But it is what it is. They deserve it. They won it last year. They get to have their day. We had our day and LeBron had to sit and watch that.
“It’s his payback night,” Rivers added. “And he deserves it. He really does. He’s probably gone through more scrutiny than any player, maybe any athlete, that I can ever remember. In that light, I’m happy for him.”
The Celtics were not on the court for the ceremony, which preceded the usual pregame warmup period.
“To be able to raise that banner in front of our fans, it took a tremendous amount of work collectively,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We don’t want to diminish that.”
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