The Miamt HEAT's victory has done wonders for the South Florida community. In an area that can be embarrasingly polarized, the resulting community unification is nothing short of magical. Prayers, good luck beads, orisha white, whatever the reason, let's just enjoy it.
I did not venture into the heat for the HEAT celebration but I enjoyed Shaq's impromptu up close and personal contact with fans and Pat Riley's dance. These guys really seem to enjoy each other. Let's hope their love remains infectious. Peace and Love.
Posted on Sat, Jun. 24, 2006
`We're gonna do it again next year!'
By GREG COTE
Confetti cannons shot silver flakes that shimmered and danced in the sun and fell like gold dust upon the masses along Biscayne Boulevard. Out of this surreal haze stepped a giant. Shaquille O'Neal left the detached comfort of the 18-wheel flatbed truck on which he'd been standing and stepped down onto the street during the Miami Heat's championship parade Friday.
It was his idea and nobody told him no, possibly related to the fact he is roughly the size of an upright Cadillac Escalade.
Suddenly, a scene that was merely crazy turned merrily insane as Shaq turned into a seven-foot two-inch, 330-pound Pied Piper. It started with him shaking the hands of police officers and high-fiving a few fans along the human corridor of love.
Before long, hundreds of fans were spilling through barriers and following in his enormous wake, trying to get close to the mountain who'd helped Miami to the mountaintop, until finally cops spirited Shaq into a pickup truck lest things grow unruly.
''I just had to touch my people,'' the big man would explain later. ``I'm a people person.'' Talk about a man in his element.
An estimated 200,000 Heat fans swarmed downtown Miami on Friday, sweating and swelling, teeming and screaming, to celebrate the Heat's first NBA championship in 18 years as a franchise.
Hispanic, black and white, wealthy and not so, young and old, neckties and tank tops, men, women, children and a German shepherd in a No. 3 Dwyane Wade jersey -- a cross-section of South Florida mirroring our diversity -- turned out in a stunning, nearly breathtaking display. It was an entire community coming together, and in more than just the physical sense.
This is the power of sports, and of magical teams. It can provide us a common bond not common enough. It can be a coalescing force that makes us forget all our differences for a sweet while, because we are busy cheering for the same thing.
Friday, we were cheering only our fifth pro sports championship, after the Dolphins' 1972-73 Super Bowls and the Marlins' World Series in 1997 and 2003.
Friday, we were cheering a doubted team that proved all doubters wrong.
Team owner Micky Arison hoisted the golden championship trophy from the car that carried him along the parade route and the crowd lifted with it each time, roaring.
Alonzo Mourning, who endured a kidney transplant to finally reach this day, aimed a video camera at the crowd with one hand and raised a triumphant, clenched fist with the other. ''Twenty years of basketball just to enjoy this moment,'' he'd say later. ``The wind sprints, the surgeries, the disappointment, the pain, the adversity. It makes you appreciate this moment even more.''
Wade, the wunderkind, only 24 but capable of becoming our most beloved athlete since Dan Marino, grooved and danced with his NBA Finals MVP trophy held high. He wore his wife's sunglasses with enormous white frames. Wore his ball cap off center, hip-hop style. ''I wanted to go again,'' he said of the parade. ``I loved every moment of it.''
Udonis Haslem, the only one of the Heat's ''15 Strong'' born and raised in Miami, looked out over the emotional snapshot he'd helped create and seemed overwhelmed, battling his emotions like he'd battled Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki in the Finals.
Pat Riley, grinning, pumped a large plastic gun and sprayed water across grateful, simmering, cheering fans.
The Heat's 61-year-old coaching legend had won four championships with the Los Angeles Lakers but none in 18 years. He said none of his previous rings compared to this one. ''This is the best. For so many reasons. It just is,'' he said quietly after the parade and before the arena-steps ceremony that followed. ``When I was younger, it didn't have the same meaning. It came at the right time in my life.''
Riley's elderly mother passed away as the playoffs began. General Manager Randy Pfund's mom died just before that. The mother of Arison's wife also passed away recently, as did the wife of trainer Ron Culp.
Marilyn Culp, before succumbing to cancer just before the Heat won the championship she knew they would, hid letters throughout the house for her husband to find after she'd passed. One read simply, ``Congratulations.'' ''
We had four special angels up there,'' Riley said.
The day ended not with such reflection, but with pure joy as a giant black curtain parted to reveal Riley and his players on stage as a sea of fans roared. Shaq rapped as music boomed, adapting lyrics to the Heat.
He even coaxed a few gingerly dance steps out of Riley, bad hip and all. Later, Riley swayed as speakers boomed his personal anthem by his favorite singer, Bruce Springsteen. The song title described the Heat's path from doubts to the champions: The Rising.
The parade kicking off Friday's celebration had begun just past 2 p.m. Except it didn't, really. It began on May 6, 1986, when former basketball star Billy Cunningham and theatrical producer Zev Bufman announced plans to bring an NBA franchise to Miami.
It began on April 22, 1987, when the league officially awarded us an expansion team.
It began on Nov. 5, 1988, when the Heat played its first-ever regular-season game.
Or perhaps the parade really began on Sept. 2, 1995, when Riley became president and head coach. That was the day the franchise instantly gained a national stature it hadn't had, and the first day the word ''parade'' was ever mentioned.
It was the day the daring to dream began.
Riley had stood in a cruise ship called Imagination, in a lounge called Dynasty, only a mile east of where the confetti fell Friday, and said, ``I imagine in my mind the symbolic championship parade right down Biscayne Boulevard.''
The parade began on June 26, 2003, when the Heat selected a Marquette guard named Dwyane Wade in the NBA Draft's first round.
The parade began on July 14, 2004, when a center called Shaq arrived in a seismic trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Shaq promised to bring a championship to Miami those two summers ago, on the same arena steps where Friday's post-parade ceremony took place.
The latest occasion did not inspire in Shaq any sudden, uncharacteristic bout of modesty.
''We're gonna do it again next year!'' the giant shouted to the adoring mass of fans. ``Yeah, I said it! Yeah, I said it!''
The parade itself ended in about an hour.
Except it didn't, really.
You get the feeling that as long as Shaq and D-Wade are here, perhaps the parade has just begun.
© 2006 VANESSA BYERS, Vanessa: Unplugged