- Associated Press - Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kobe Bryant had just finished with a Big Three when LeBron James and friends got to work building another.

Dwyane Wade soon announced he was staying in Miami, flanked by Chris Bosh, who said he was coming. The next night, James appeared on his much-publicized, heavily criticized TV special to declare his intentions of heading to South Beach.

Two days, three All-Stars. Just like that, the Heat were the clear winners in July.

For now, Bryant and the two-time defending champion Lakers still own June.

“I think until someone beats the Lakers, the Lakers is the team to beat. I don’t care how stacked the team is,” Hall of Famer Michael Jordan said. “That’s the thing about being champions. Until you get knocked off of that hill, you’re still the champions.”

The new Heat make their debut in the NBA season opener on Oct. 26 against the Boston Celtics, who brought back their trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, then added even more age when they signed Shaquille O'Neal.

And O'Neal has a message for his former fans in Miami: Older is definitely better.

“Everyone wants to talk about the young team, but in the last 10 years, I think I’ve been there four times. I haven’t seen a young team there yet,” O’Neal told reporters after a preseason game in Hartford, Conn.

“You guys, every time you see young people get together, you automatically give it to them. But studies show, it’s documented the last 10 years, no young team has either won it or even been there.”

Miami could be the team to change that. James is the two-time reigning MVP, Wade is a former scoring champion who was MVP of the 2006 NBA finals, and Bosh is one of the best big men in the league. They were friends who came into the league together as top-five picks in the 2003 draft and teammates on the U.S. Olympic that won gold in 2008.

They went on the market together to head the most hyped free agency class in history, and Miami landed all three of them.

“That’s the only reason for coming here, me and C-Bosh and D-Wade, united to win a championship,” James said during Miami’s media day. “We’re going to bring our ‘A’ game every night and play as hard as we can to try to bring a championship to South Florida.”

Bryant won’t give it up easily, even as he battles nagging injuries and offseason knee surgery. Asked his reaction to the Heat’s coup, the finals MVP provided only a ho-hum, “Wow, how did Pat Riley pull that (expletive) off? Impressive.”

Riley did it because his three stars all accepted less than allowed, leaving the Heat with enough money to re-sign Udonis Haslem and ink Mike Miller, equipping them with a top bench, as well.

Los Angeles also got stronger with the signings of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes. Phil Jackson returned to try for a fourth three-peat, which would allow Bryant to tie Jordan with six titles.

Story Continues →