In Panhandle, airmen eager for Heat to arrive
For them, the next few days will be more about fun and games than usual.
Taking training camp 650 miles from home, the Miami Heat will arrive at Eglin Air Force Base late Monday night, then get to work Tuesday morning when two-a-day basketball practices begin at Hurlburt Field. And for the airmen, the visit from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat is a diversion that’s leaving them almost giddy.
“It’s been a morale booster,” Airman First Class Nickolas Fisher said. “Everybody’s talking about it on base. Everybody wants to go.”
Few, if any, will be attending. Practices will be closed, although some events where the Heat interact with the military personnel are scheduled.
The Heat will stay at an on-base hotel at their expense, eating catered meals, even bringing in beds large enough to accommodate NBA-sized men. When they’re not on the court, they’ll work out using the same facilities the airmen use. Mona Noel, a front desk clerk at the lodge, said her cell phone has been busy nonstop with requests from friends and family who want to know about the special guests.
“After we went up and visited, we thought it would be a perfect place to train,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “There was never any other agenda other than that. … We think it turned out to be a great situation.”
Miami reviewed a number of spots for camp, never finding the perfect fit until trainer Jay Sabol brought the idea of Hurlburt and Eglin to coach Erik Spoelstra. It didn’t take long for Spoelstra to get on board, and eventually, the deal got done.
This will be a Heat training camp unlike any other. More than 250 media members have applied for credentials. ESPN plans extensive coverage, not surprising considering the free-agent decisions of Wade, James and Bosh dominated the NBA offseason _ and even after they all chose to be teammates in Miami, there was widespread attention.
And now comes a new story line: A boot camp, so to speak.
“At first I didn’t think it was actually true,” Staff Sgt. Fatimat Bello said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is just hype. It’s not going to actually happen. They’re not coming to Hurlburt Field.’ And then I got pretty excited about it.”
Bello is from Louisiana, partial to the New Orleans Hornets. She’s a basketball player, competing in a women’s league at Eglin.
“My teammates and I have been trying to stalk a little bit,” Bello acknowledged. “It’s not working out too well.”
Fisher also plays recreationally. He followed James‘ offseason movements closely, especially after all the fallout over the two-time reigning MVP deciding to leave Cleveland.