The Miami Heat organization held an open practice for 5000 fans (mostly season ticket holders) on Sunday afternoon a day before their last home preseason game against the Charlotte Bobcats. Most notable was that not only did LeBron James participate in it but also that he showed no signs of being held back from the leg pain he was experiencing recently. With each motion to the crowd, LeBron would set off a loud buzz from a mostly packed lower bowl who were content with two-thirds of the Heat’s superstar trio out on the court as well as a healthy Eddie House.
While Dwyane Wade was occupied with family matters back home in Chicago which will keep him away from the team for the next few days, the Heat moved on and played a spirited full court scrimmage that was a bit on the short end, but perhaps that’s understandably cautious. The crowd didn’t seem to matter as they showered the players with cheers as they left the court.
"We’re excited and obviously the fans are excited too," said Mike Miller. "We’re hoping to continue to work and put a product out there on the floor that the city of Miami is proud of. So it’s just one step. They’re going to have our backs the whole time and that’s going to make it very tough in here to play."
Coach Spoelstra seemed satisfied with the whole event and might have been a bit more relaxed after seeing most of his recently injured players back on the court and contributing with little left of the preseason.
"We wanted it to be something special for the organization and also for the fans of South Florida," said Spoelstra after the open practice. "So it has been electric. We want to do our part and that’s coming in every single day working to try to build this team. But it’s great to see the support and the fact that the fans are ready."
Spoelstra offered a bit of clarity to the issue of Wade’s absence.
"We’ll be in continued contact with him. We’ll find out and that is day to day. His injury is not. His injury is getting better. He’s already doing a lot of court work. Rey Jaffet (ed. assistant athletic trainer) is up there with him. So he’s starting his conditioning process now and doing more court work. As soon as he gets back, whenever that is, he’ll probably be able to start doing some work with the team."
While coach Erik Spoelstra and later Juwan Howard trotted out for messages to the crowd, the Heat team started in with a new silent hand signal of pinching their fingertips together with raised hands as the team saluted the crowd after the scrimmage ended and during an impromptu dunk display featuring LeBron and Patrick Beverley.
Was the gesture an inside joke? Perhaps it’s a sign of unity or maybe an acknowledgment to the crowd (or haters?). The reason why the team has started doing it has something to do with Beverley, who is acknowledged as the player who introduced it to the team, but he is tight-lipped about it.
"It’s part of our secret society," joked Beverley. "I grew up doing it but the rest? No comment. Let’s just leave it at that."
He will say that he started it up with his good friend Anthony Mason Jr during training camp and that it’s caught on like wildfire among his teammates. Though the trick is to make someone look at essentially nothing, Beverley is adamant in that he wants it to spread across Miami. Maybe it’ll catch on like the fake rats did during the Florida Panthers postseason run more than a decade ago.