MIAMI (CBS4/AP) More than 4 thousand people waited in the pouring rain for a chance to see the game. More that a quarter million watched it online, around the world on CBSMiami.com. And in South Florida, countless more watched it at home on My TV 33. Everyone got what they wanted from The South Florida All Star Classic, as what was essentially an exhibition game turned into a real contest leading to a squeaker OT victory.
Dwyane Wade and Heat teammates LeBron James and Chris Bosh were among the headliners Saturday night in the South Florida All-Star Classic, an exhibition game featuring nine NBA All-Stars at Florida International. On the 100th day since the NBA lockout was announced — and with Commissioner David Stern having said the first two weeks of the regular season may be canceled as early as Monday — fans and players were both jittery over the immediate future.
“This is very unfortunate, this situation, to be in when you have two sides that at the end of the day have the same goal, just two different ways of getting there,” Wade said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We both want to grow this game. We both want the NBA to be as good as it can. We want everyone to succeed. But we both have two different ways of getting there.
“To know that you’re close but you’re so far away is sad in a sense,” Wade added. “But that’s the nature of business. The only thing we can do is keep plugging at it.”
A person familiar with union matters told The AP that the NBA players’ association is trying to schedule a regional meeting in Miami on Sunday and another Monday in Los Angeles, though cautioned nothing was finalized. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because most details related to labor talks are being kept private, said players received no formal briefings from union officials Saturday.
Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony was blunt after the game: He expects the NBA to cancel games soon.
“They’re going to cancel the first two weeks of the season,” Anthony said. “We’ll see what happens then. If they want to lock us out, lock us out. We’re going to stick together.”
James and Wade said this game wasn’t about the lockout, but about fans. That’s why the Heat duo were able to secure commitments from stars like Anthony, Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay and a slew of other NBA players.
“We’ll play any day, any time,” said James, who organized much of the game. “That’s why we’re here tonight, giving back to our fans and what they deserve and letting them know that no matter what’s going on with our situation, we’re going to play the game and play at a high level.”
Oh, that they did — and from the way they banged bodies around, argued over calls and scrapped on just about every possession, the outcome very much mattered to the guys on the floor.
Wade made two free throws with 3.2 seconds left to seal his team’s 141-140 victory — a game made closer by James swishing a half-court jumper as time expired. Anthony’s deep 3-pointer for Team Wade with 2 seconds left in regulation sent the teams to overtime knotted at 127.
On Friday, word came that a late attempt to get the two sides together broke down when the NBA wouldn’t move off a 50-50 revenue split with players. Players were guaranteed 57 percent of basketball-related income under the previous collective bargaining agreement and have proposed lowering it to 53 percent in a new deal, but that remaining 3 percent represents an unbridged gap of about $120 million.
The game at FIU, where Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas is a coach, sold out in less than two hours. Many fans stood for hours in drenching rain to get the best available seats in the gym on Saturday, “which shows what sort of fans we have here in Miami,” Wade said. James tried to reward as many as possible with T-shirts and free samples of Sheets Energy Strips, a product he’s heavily involved with.
“We are definitely in awe of their presence here tonight,” Thomas said.
Thomas is a former president of the NBA players’ association and while Wade, James and Bosh were getting questions about the prospects of regular-season games being wiped out, the former Detroit guard jumped to their defense.
“The players aren’t canceling the game, so they shouldn’t take the responsibility, nor should they have the fault of carrying the burden for canceling games,” Thomas said. “They’re willing and ready to play.”
The gym was filled long before tip-off, fans filling the building all the way to the very top of the bleachers.
And they got the sort of show they sought, too.
Several charities are benefiting from the game, notably Mary’s Court, the foundation started in honor of Thomas’ late mother which was able to donate $100,000 because of the game to a scholarship fund at FIU.
James and Durant went on a dunking exhibition in the third quarter, around the same time boxer Floyd Mayweather arrived to take a courtside seat amid some boos from fans, a nod to his hotly debated victory over Victor Ortiz last month.
Several players changed personal schedules to be there, and Paul — a former Wake Forest star — left immediately after the Demon Deacons’ football win over Florida State on Saturday to catch a quick flight to Miami, arriving at the arena about 90 minutes before game time.
“That’s the bond that we have for one another,” James said. “Not only as teammates, but guys on other teams as well.”
Many players wore Nike T-shirts before the game with the slogan “Basketball Never Stops,” and most players had the letters BBNS — the acronym for that — on the backs of their jerseys, as has happened at the other major exhibitions players have been involved with in recent weeks. Players had hometowns, not their NBA teams, announced during the pregame introductions. For example, Wade was introduced to the Miami crowd as “Chicago’s own, and your very own.” Many of the basketballs on the rack were NBA ones, a half-dozen bearing the stamp “New York Knicks.”
“Just pulling up and seeing the fans excited outside about the game of basketball just puts you in the right state of mind,” Wade said.