By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 10, 2010; D06
MIAMI -- Two-time NBA most valuable player LeBron James might have emerged from his nationally televised press conference Thursday as the most disdained current sports figure in Cleveland, and the Miami Heat might be in growing contention with the New York Yankees for the distinction of being the nation's most detested team, but the love flowed in American Airlines Arena on Friday night.
Heat fans snatched up the 13,000 available free tickets for a raucous post-signing celebration at which the Heat celebrated its clean sweep of the most celebrated free agents on the NBA's market this summer, having landed James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat completed sign-and-trade deals on Friday with Cleveland and Toronto, respectively, for James and Bosh. All three players signed six-year contracts, but for less than the maximum money allowed in order to give the Heat room under the salary cap to add other free agents, according to a Heat official.
"It's been emotionally draining at times, it's been exciting, it's been nerve-racking," James said at a news conference after the event. "I've been scared at times, I've been afraid sometimes, but I accepted the challenge to move on. . . . It feels great now."
As fans waited for the newly anointed "Three Kings" of Miami to ink their contracts and emerge Friday night, they clacked clackers, shouted, danced, waved "YES. WE. DID." placards depicting the team's new super trio and shouted "Beat L.A.!" Hundreds of fans watched the festivities outside the arena.
Season ticket packages had sold out by Friday morning, hours after James had announced on national television that he was forgoing a return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in favor of Miami and his 2008 Olympic teammates.
"It feels right, it feels right," James told the crowd. "To be in this position, to wear this uniform. . . . We want to let the world know that the Heat is back."
In the hours since he had announced he was joining the Heat, James had been accused of betraying his former team in a blistering open letter from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to Cleveland's fans. After feeling the reception from Miami's fans, James said, his confidence in his decision grew.
"I really don't have a reaction to what Dan said," James said. "When things hit the fan, you see a guy's true colors, and I understand that. I wish the organization the best of luck and I wish the fans the best of luck, because I still do love those fans. . . . Dan's comments are not going to stop me and my family from sleeping at night. It just won't do it."
Added James: "I understand now I made the right decision. And to hear my former owner's comments, I also understand I made the right decision."
He got quite an embrace Friday.
More than an hour after the scheduled start of the welcome party, the trio rose from below the stage on a moving platform, emerging with their backs to the crowd amid smoke and fire, wearing white Heat uniforms. Wade sported his longtime No. 3, but Bosh, wearing No. 1, and James, wearing No. 6, chose new numbers.
With Wade standing in the middle, the three preened and posed, absorbing the wild cheering of the crowd for several minutes. Then all made their way down a runway, handing out bent-over high fives to fans pressed against the stage.
"It's not just me up here blowing smoke," James said. "We believe we can win multiple championships."
The trio received keys to the cities of Miami and Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County. The team's English language announcer Eric Ried called the arena "Dwyane Wade's House," "LeBron James's Kingdom," and "Bosh's Pit."
At least one celebrity will stay on the sideline: Hall of Famer Pat Riley, the team's president, confirmed he would not return to coach. "That's not an issue . . . Erik Spoelstra is the head coach of this team," Riley said. James, Wade and Bosh "don't want me to coach this team."
The object of burned No. 23 jerseys in Cleveland Thursday night, James tugged on his jersey to flash the "Heat" inscription when his name was announced.
"When I get a rebound, I got LeBron on my left and I have D. Wade on my right," Bosh said. "That's all I gotta say, really. Yeah, I'm lucky."