MIAMI – Together, they crashed into the shores of Biscayne Bay like a tsunami, the way that LeBron James(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes) believed basketball would unfold night after night. They thrust themselves out of the laser lights and hazy smoke with lob dunks and long 3-pointers, a destruction so devastating that it reduced a championship contender to rubble.
Out of Pat Riley’s bold imagination, out of the most relentless hysteria and hype the sport’s ever seen, here it was on opening night at American Airlines Arena. The sluggishness had worked itself out on the trip to Boston and Philadelphia, and suddenly polish met the possibilities. There was sheer devastation of the Orlando Magic, one standing ovation after another. It was a frightening night for the NBA, a testimony to the Heat’s willingness – even eagerness – to transform their foremost ferocity onto the defensive end. All shuffling feet and slight of hands disrupting everything for the Magic, feeding a frenzy of a 96-70 victory.
“This is what we envisioned,” James said later, and the validation of that vision had come so far from a Monday night loss to the Boston Celtics. So far, so fast. “We heard everything Orlando had to say about us in the offseason. There’s only so many words to be said.
“At this point, the ball has to be thrown up.”
The ball went up, and all hell broke loose. James and Wade are impossible to slow in the open floor, and when they’re hitting 3-pointers resistance is futile. This is the show that the sport so desperately wanted, the old Showtime Lakers living and breathing under the watch of old man Riles. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are getting older, playing slower, and the Heat promise to be the NBA’s TV eye candy, the can’t-miss villains vanquishing with speed and style and snarl.
The hate seeps out of the pores of Orlando and Miami, just as it does between the Heat and Celtics. The NBA did something no one would’ve ever imagined in this sporting nation: It’s opening week has gone punch for punch with the World Series on the basis of buzz and intrigue, with ratings at historic highs and video streams on the league’s website increasing more than 200 percent.
Still, David Stern had come to Miami to spread thick his labor gloom and doom, to push his prognostications of imminent financial ruin for owners. After CBS Sports revealed Stern had been floating the possible contraction of teams, he eagerly confirmed this phony scenario and needlessly muddied up a historic opening week of the season.
The self-made issues of his problem franchises never go away. Stern says he’s enlisted an outside law firm to investigate the findings of the Yahoo! Sports report on alleged illegal New York Knicks workouts. Around the league, more than a dozen NBA executives told Yahoo! Sports prior to publication that they had known about Kansas sophomore Brandon Rush(notes) injuring his knee in a secret predraft workout in the days and weeks after it happened in late May 2007.
The fact this inquiry is getting farmed out makes sense, because the NBA’s vice president of basketball operations, Stu Jackson, has ties to the Knicks scout at the center of the investigation.
As the Vancouver Grizzlies general manager in the mid-1990s, Jackson gave Rodney Heard his first job in the NBA, and they have stayed friends.
Whatever the verdict, Stern has been blessed with the diversion of a brilliant start to the season. Here were James and Wade rising out of the shores of Biscayne Bay, out of the wild imagination and ingenuity of Pat Riley, out of a long, loud summer. James is right: Eventually the talk stops and the ball goes up into the air. It finally happened here, and James and Wade responded with something to take away your breath, to take away championship hopes in NBA cities across North America.
Miami 96, Orlando 70. This never happens to the Magic, but make no mistake: The Heat are on a tour to deliver humiliation. They don’t want to win, but destroy. Here come LeBron James and Dwyane Wade down the floor together, devastating when they’re running right, when the talk stops and this breathless talent takes the ball.