MIAMI — As the Miami Heat's lead skyrocketed Thursday night from 5 just after halftime to an insurmountable 24 by the end of the third quarter, their fans outside the AmericanAirlines Arena decided it was time to celebrate the team's second NBA championship 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 3-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 the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Heat won the series in five games.
The promise made to South Florida fans 23 months earlier when LeBron James and Chris Bosh added their talents to Dwyane Wade's had arrived.
"We're bringing the championship home to Miami. LeBron promised us a ring and he got us our ring," said Ivine Mulkey, 32.
Orlando Hernandez, 33, noted it had been a team effort, with major Game 5 contributions coming from supporting players Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier.
"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.
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.