MIAMI – As the Miami Heat’s lead skyrocketed Thursday night from five points just after halftime to an insurmountable 24 by the end of the third quarter, their fans outside theAmericanAirlines Arena decided it was time to celebrate the team’s second NBAchampionship in six years.
The thousands gathered in bars, restaurants and a park near the arena screamed in joy late Thursday as the Heat dropped one three-pointer after another. Fans used the fourth quarter to get an early start on their party as they watched their team coast to a 121-106 win over theOklahoma City Thunder. The Heat won the series in five games.
“We’re bringing the championship home to Miami. LeBron promised us a ring and he got us our ring,” said Ivine Mulkey, 32.
“This is the best game they’ve ever had — the best final. It’s unbelievable how they stepped up. It’s not just one person. It’s everybody,” Hernandez said.
As the game ended, the fans from the neighborhood bars pushed happily toward the arena, meeting those leaving the game to jump, whoop and holler. They banged pots and pans and blew whistles. Championship shirts were sold, and special editions of The Miami Herald were handed out. Traffic on Biscayne Boulevard outside the arena was gridlocked.
The only negativity came when the Thunder’s team bus left the arena — some fans sprayed it with liquid and made obscene gestures toward the players as it crawled away. Still, Miami police reported no serious problems after the game.
They had been braced for trouble, though. There were added police officers near AmericanAirlines Arena to ensure that fans or revelers not get too out of hand before, during or after the game.
Miami Police Sgt. Freddy Cruz said Biscayne Boulevard — the main thoroughfare running in front of the arena that the Heat call home — would be closed as usual after the game to alleviate traffic.
Cruz said officers were prepared for a few impromptu street parties — banging pots and pans is a bit of a tradition in some areas of the city.
James, the regular season and Finals MVP, may be hated in Cleveland and elsewhere for leaving his native state’s Cavaliers, but his adopted hometown showered him with love after the game. Fans waved posters of their hero and defended him against critics, who branded him a choker who would never win a championship.
“Silence the haters — LeBron did it,” said Matthew Gonzalez, 21.
Fans were already making plans for next season. After all, James promised not just one championship. Or just two, three, four, five, six or seven.
“We’re going to win next year too. This is just the beginning,” fan Samantha Stevens said.
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