Basketball NBA Joint

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Just moments before 7 a.m., and approximately seven hours after winning its first championship in franchise history, the Heat returned triumphantly to Miami International Airport Wednesday morning.
As the team's white jet -- adorned with a black underside, red stripes ending in yellow flames and call letters N727NK -- landed, nearly 250 fans mobbed the fence alongside the Miami Air hangar for a glimpse at their freshly anointed champions. The jet approached the hangar and went under four streams of water projected by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue vehicles.
The jet came to a halt a few dozen feet outside the hangar and a stairwell emerged from the rear. One by one, members of the Heat organization deplaned, with center Shaquille O'Neal embracing the golden trophy.
''It's a wonderful experience,'' Heat coach Pat Riley said. ``We are so delighted and happy, not just for all of us in the Miami Heat family, but for the city of Miami. We've been here for a long time. We watched the Marlins win two world championships, and we are glad to bring the world title here to Miami.''
Heat center Alonzo Mourning, who overcame a kidney transplant to continue his career, echoed Riley's sentiments.
''Man, this is an incredible feeling, being able to accomplish this for the city of Miami,'' Mourning said. ``The city, the fans, you guys were so patient over the years. You guys deserve this more than anything because this is for you guys. You are part of this championship. Without you guys supporting us, giving us the energy that we need to go out there and compete each and every season, without that love and that passion and filling those stands, we wouldn't be here.''
Assistant coach Ron Rothstein, who was the team's inaugural head coach, said: ``It doesn't get any sweeter than this. It's unbelievable. I'm just so happy for the Arisons and the Rileys. They put so much into this. Their hearts have been broken a few times. But, they never wavered. It's a real credit to them.''
The celebration lasted throughout the flight home, as the team and its guests on the jet consumed 22 bottles of Cristal champagne.
''I think I might have gotten about 5-10 minutes of sleep on the plane,'' Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo said. ``When the pilot told us to look out the window, the fire trucks [were spraying water] and we saw these fans out here, it was great for us.''
The fans began to arrive at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. Fort Lauderdale resident Everol Blake, 22, said just watching the games in his office building was a chore.
''We had no reception,'' said Blake, who arrived just after 3 a.m. ``We had to get a paper clip, a dipping spoon, some paper and some string. We hooked it all up to the antenna of the TV. We tied the string around a pole to keep it level, and we sat in the break room to watch the Finals, game-by-game. It wasn't great reception, but we got to see our players. I felt happy. I couldn't be complete if I couldn't watch the game.''
Despite getting off from work late, Blake and a few friends headed straight for the airport. He said he had to be there.
''It's our first championship,'' Blake said. ``. . . I'm glad Zo [and] Gary Payton [got their first titles]. Shaq got another one. He promised us one. [Dwyane] Wade got a championship before [James] LeBron, [Anthony] Carmelo, Chris Bosh and Darko [Milicic] -- all the people that went before him.''
Miami resident Carlos Salhuana, 19, has been a fan since 1997 and said this year's team was ``awesome.''
''They just developed into a completely different team over the years,'' he said.
The championship was a dream just over a week ago. Miami trailed Dallas by two games and faced a 13-point lead in the closing minutes of Game 3 before rallying for the victory.
''When they were down 13 with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter of Game 3, I said it's not looking good,'' Miami resident Francisco Saravia, 34, said. ``But you take it one quarter at a time, one possession at a time, one game at a time, and you win four in a row.''
Riley said the reaction from the fans on hand was ``great.''
''We've always known we've had diehard fans,'' Riley said. ``They've had a lot of patience. We are so glad that we can deliver a championship to them. The parade is on Friday.''


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