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THE TRIPLE CROWN

LeBron James joins the Heat with Wade, Bosh: "We feel we can be great together."

Pat Riley had to make up ground coming down the homestretch, but the Heat president has secured his Big Three.

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, James 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 anything since the league offered Magic, Kareem and Worthy with the Lakers, and Bird, McHale and Parish with the Celtics.

"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 commit 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. With the big three, Riley secured a commitment that they would be willing to shave money off their deals in order to make the permutations work.

"I feel like it's not a super team right now," James 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.

He said he embraces the chance to be alongside Wade.

"The way we play on both ends of the court will not change," James said. "We'll just be united now. And that's the same thing with Chris, also. We're just going to raise each's intensity up."

James, 25, scoffed at the notion that such stars can't co-exist.

"There's no personal agenda," he said. "We could have stayed where we were. This has nothing to do with being an individual.

"The friendship has been there from Day 1."

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.

ESPN reported early Thursday that the Heat had emerged as the favorite to sign James. The network later reduced the tone of that conviction but continued to list the Heat as the front-runner right up until James' announcement, which Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison watched at AmericanAirlines Arena.

By midday Thursday, the story was continually taking odd twists. USMagazine.com reported that James had rented six cabanas at the W Hotel South Beach this weekend to celebrate his decision, as well as 25 rooms. James also had been linked to a significant real-estate purchase in South Florida.

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LeBron-a-palooza

- The Heat is scheduled to play a preseason game against the Magic on Oct. 22 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. No details have been announced.

- The Heat suspended season-ticket sales for 2010-11 Thursday afternoon after the supply of available seats was sold out in the wake of Dwyane Wade saying he would rejoin the team and Chris Bosh saying he would join it amid rumors James would follow. Not every seat has been released for sale; some will be held back for single-game purchases at 19,600-capacity AmericanAirlines Arena.

- 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. James said that's what he would take.

- The Heat could have as many as 11 players earning the NBA minimum of roughly $1 million next season.

* * *

What they're saying

Reaction to LeBron James' announcement:

Yeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!

Chris Bosh, new teammate on his Twitter account

"It's not over with. Nothing's over."

Mike D'Antoni, Knicks coach on the Heat being considered the team to beat for the title next season

"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

"We'll deal with it. It's Cleveland, it's typical Cleveland."

Frank Borally, owner of the city's Purple Shamrock bar

"Think there will be 'Welcome, LeBron!' T-shirts with Cavs, Nets, Bulls and Knicks logos on them floating around Third World countries?"

Dave Lozo, NHL.com writer

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