In Miami, Hopes Sky-High For NBA Championship

fromWLRN

The NBA season kicks off Tuesday. Most of the attention may be focused on the game in Boston where the Celtics take on the Miami Heat. During the off-season, Miami signed three megastars, including LeBron James. Now, the expectations are sky-high for a championship.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR news. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The National Basketball Association begins its regular season tomorrow night. And the attention of hoops fans everywhere will be on Boston, because that is where the Miami Heat debut the league's most talked about team featuring superstar LeBron James.

As Phil Latzman of member station WLRN found out, expectations are limitless, and the room for error is anything but.

PHIL LATZMAN: Inside a palatial practice facility overlooking Miami's sparkling Biscayne Bay, is perhaps the world's greatest basketball player, and arguably the great assemblage of talent ever on an NBA team.

Mr. LEBRON JAMES (Miami Heat): Are we a Dream Team? No, we're not a dream team, we're the Miami Heat. You know, we have a few all-stars, but when you're a dream team, you know, everyone's an all-star, so it's different.

LATZMAN: That's LeBron James who said back in July during a televised special on ESPN that he was taking his talents to South Beach. Now, he's showing off those talents, and like a game of horse, James is rotating clockwise, endlessly swishing 20-foot jump shots and making it look easy.

But the past few months since he made his controversial decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami have been anything but easy.

Mr. JAMES: You're always going to have people who love you and who hate you.

LATZMAN: The six-foot eight-inch forward has been bombarded with criticism, especially from Ohio fans who feel jilted by the Akron native. Some of that hate manifests itself on James' Twitter feed, which he says is important to keep connected with fans.

He declared one day last week as hater day, and has been re-tweeting some of the nastier, even racially tinged, comments to his nearly one million followers. So why is he being so open?

Mr. JAMES: I just want you guys to sometimes see it also, to see what type of words are said towards me and, you know, towards us in general as professional athletes. It's not always - you know, everybody thinks it's a bed of roses when it's really not.

LATZMAN: More like a bed of money. Miami hit the NBA's free agent lottery this off season by managing to sign James and fellow all-star Chris Bosh, while keeping their own superstar, Dwayne Wade.

With over $300 million promised to the big three, the Heat is now the odds on favorite to win it all, and the team the rest of the league, and its fans, love to hate.

Erik Spoelstra is the head coach.

Mr. ERIK SPOELSTRA (Head Coach, Miami Heat): We understand the big picture and what we're playing for. And we don't want to get impatient right now. The most important thing is our health.

LATZMAN: Expectations may be high for the star-studded Heat to show their best stuff early. But according to forward, Chris Bosh, the best is yet to come.

Mr. CHRIS BOSH (Miami Heat): Our expectations are going to be to win every game that we come out. But the best is when it's time to be the best, and that's toward the end of the season and the playoffs.

LATZMAN: Miami, always known as a football town is about to become a basketball Mecca. And for fans, Ed Baroni and Scott and Megan Kerr, it is championship or bust.

Mr. ED BARONI (Miami Heat Fan): To me they're going to absolutely, I think they're going to wipe out the east.

Mr. SCOTT KERR: (Miami Heat Fan): They're going to win the championship, and they're probably going to three out of the next four years. I think that.

Ms. MEGAN KERR: (Miami Heat Fan): Oh, I have to agree with everything he said. I think it's going to be a laugh just to watch them dominate.

LATZMAN: And like dealing with jilted and angry fans in Ohio, the player known as King James knows it won't be as easy as it looks.

Mr. JAMES: It's definitely an adjustment for all of us. You know, we're still a new group still trying to get together and learn each other on the basketball court. So..

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Do you think the fans understand that?

Mr. JAMES: No.

LATZMAN: Regardless of whether they love or hate him, fans will get to see LeBron James in the Heat for the first time tomorrow night in Boston, as the NBA tips off its regular season.

For NPR news, I'm Phil Latzman in Miami.

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