Pat Riley had to make up ground coming down the homestretch, but the Heat president has secured his triple crown.
LeBron James is coming to South Florida, to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on a team that is poised to jump from also-ran to immediate championship contender.
"It's a new challenge for myself," James said. "I don't have any doubts at all."
In front of the national glare of ESPN's cameras, perhaps the most hysterically hyped free agent in sports history completed Thursday night what Wade and Bosh started Wednesday, a three-pronged partnership of All-Stars and 2008 gold medal-winning Olympic teammates that could rival any of the league's Big Three throughout the years: Magic, Kareem and Worthy with the Lakers, Bird, McHale and Parish with the Celtics, and currently Boston's Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
"This league, you become a superstar individually, but you become a champion as a team, and I understand that," James said.
The commitment of Wade, James and Bosh was so strong that all agreed to join the Heat without being assured that they would receive their maximum allowable starting salary of $16.6 million for 2010-11.
"The numbers are not finalized," James said. "All three of us are going to take less money, because we all wanted to play alongside each other, and we feel we can be great together."
Riley and his management staff worked through the day Thursday trying to make the numbers work while also maximizing the roster's composition.
"I feel like it's not a super team right now," James, 25, said, "because the team, we don't even have enough players to fill a roster."
Concerns about winning, not money, fueled James' decision, as the six-time All-Star forward prepares to play for the first time in his seven-year career with a team other than the Cavaliers, not far from his hometown, Akron, Ohio.
The news wasn't taken well in Cleveland, particularly by majority owner Dan Gilbert.
"As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier," Gilbert wrote in a letter to fans after the ESPN show. "This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his 'decision' unlike anything ever 'witnessed' in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment. Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.
"I want to make one statement to you tonight: I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE.
"But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called 'curse' on Cleveland, Ohio. The self-declared former 'King' will be taking the 'curse' with him down south."
In leaving the Cavaliers, James dramatically altered the league's power structure, with the Heat instantly vaulted into the Eastern Conference upper echelon, along with the Celtics and Magic.
While Riley was a championship coach, a return to the bench is not impending. Wade, 28, said Wednesday that he expects second-year coach Erik Spoelstra to continue to guide the team. James said he, too, welcomes Spoelstra as coach.
James met with six teams after free-agency began July 1. The others were the Cavs, Bulls, Knicks, Nets and Clippers.
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- The Heat suspended season-ticket sales for 2010-11 after the supply of available seats was sold out Thursday afternoon in the wake of Dwyane Wade saying he would stay and Chris Bosh, left, saying he would join the team amid rumors James would follow. Not every seat has been sold; some will be held for single-game purchases at 19,600-capacity AmericanAirlines Arena.
- The Heat is scheduled to play a preseason game against the Magic on Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.
- As the Heat's free agent, Wade is eligible for a six-year, $125 million contract. As free agents signing from other teams, James and Bosh are eligible for five-year, $96 million deals. All three might be willing to take less, the numbers are not final.
- The Heat could have as many as 11 players earning the NBA minimum of roughly $1 million next season.
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What they're saying
Reaction to James' announcement:
"If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring (a title) to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our 'motivation' to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels."
Dan Gilbert, Cavs owner, in a letter to fans
"We are disappointed that LeBron James did not pick the New York Knicks, but we respect his decision."
Donnie Walsh, Knicks president
"We have a vision of a championship team and need to invest wisely and for the long term. Fortunately, we have more than one plan to reach success, and ... that is key to achieving it."
Mikhail Prokhorov, Nets owner
"I remain convinced that this organization made the strongest of bids to acquire LeBron James."
Gar Forman, Bulls GM
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LeBron James joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami means instant comparison to other "Big Threes" in NBA history, the most recent being the current Celtics' Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, put together three years ago. A look at combined numbers of the Celtics' and Heat's all-star trios before joining one team:
All-Star App. ................17.................22
All-NBA 1st teams.........6....................3