MIAMI (AP) - There was a time when the Miami Heat chose to retire longtime star Tim Hardaway’s jersey at their home opener to help ensure the game would sell out.
That was 2009. Just a little bit has changed in the past year.
No perks will be required to fill the building on Friday night when the Heat formally welcome two-time MVP LeBron James and All-Star Chris Bosh for the regular-season home opener against the rival Orlando Magic in a matchup of true NBA championship contenders.
So is just about everyone else involved, from either locker room.
Sure, the Heat will give away 20,000 T-shirts and commemorative game programs to fans who make it through the gates. It’s highly unlikely that anyone who plunked down money _ big, big money in some cases _ to see this game made the decision to attend based on any giveaways.
They came to see a show, the first act of what Miami expects to be a title-winning season.
“It’s going to be amazing, a lot of energy going through the building,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “That’s not going to shake Orlando. They’ve been there before. They’re one of the top teams in the East. They’ve been playing exceptionally well in the preseason. We can hope to use that for motivation. We’re not going to just come out and run away with the game because it’s our opening night at home.”
The Magic opened their season with a 112-83 win over Washington on Thursday night, before the quick flight down to Miami. The Heat are 1-1, having lost on Tuesday in Boston and then recovering to win in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Subplots are everywhere.
It’s still a big deal when Magic coach Stan Van Gundy returns to Miami, where he coached under Pat Riley and then took over Riley’s spot as head coach, only to be ultimately replaced by Riley 21 games into what became Miami’s championship season of 2005-06. It’s Quentin Richardson’s first game back in Miami after playing for the Heat last season. Haslem thought about joining the Magic this past summer.
They all take a back seat, of course, to that James-Bosh-Dwyane Wade trio that the Magic shared plenty of opinions about during the offseason. They were together in Miami for a whole 3 minutes, 17 seconds before Wade strained his right hamstring and hobbled off the court for what became a three-week absence that ended in Boston for the regular-season opener.
So while Miami fans will get their first look, in many ways, so will the Magic at Miami’s new Big 3.
“People know what our game is. It’s been the same game for three years. We’ll tweak it a little but they know our game,” Van Gundy said. “With Wade not playing and not having those three guys together the whole preseason, they know all the players, but I don’t think any of us opposing coaches in the league know what the Heat’s game is.”
Whatever it is, their game will be good. And so, too, will Miami’s business game.