By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI — The last piece of confetti had landed, the Miami Heat championship celebration was officially over and many in the crowd of revelers were starting to make their way to the exits.
Players and coaches remained on the stage.
They were in no hurry to leave. Every member of the NBA champions stood and watched a giant video board play highlights of Miami’s march through the playoffs, from LeBron James’ MVP-caliber plays on both ends to Ray Allen’s season-saving 3-pointer in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and countless moments in between.
“It’s a special group,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You know what? This season started over nine months ago with that trip to China and we were able to experience so many cool things together in the regular season. But at times, it just seems to be going by so fast.”
So maybe that’s why the Heat aren’t ready to stop celebrating this title just yet.
With an estimated 400,000 people lining the downtown Miami streets, the Heat held their parade and an in-arena rally afterward Monday. James stood atop a double-decker bus with a cigar in his mouth for the parade. Shane Battier blew kisses to the crowd, Dwyane Wade raised three fingers aloft and Chris Andersen flapped his arms in a nod to his “Birdman” moniker.
“It’s the ultimate,” James told Sun Sports, the Heat broadcast partner. “It’s the ultimate. This is what I came down here, to be able to have a parade at the end of the year. I’m extremely blessed, man. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Several players held super-soaker squirt guns and sprayed water on fans, confetti dotted the streets, and horns honked from all directions. Heat managing general partner Micky Arison and team president Pat Riley stood in the front of one bus, while Spoelstra — his championship cap turned backward — waved and clapped at fans.
“Miami parties better than any city in the world,” Spoelstra said. “But it took nine months, nine months of incredible sacrifice, not only by these men right here but everybody in our organization, grinding it out every single day, ups and downs, highs and lows. And to have a culmination like Game 7 in front of all of you here is incredible.”
Wade said that without the fans, Miami wouldn’t have found a way to win the title.
“It’s humbling. It’s very humbling to be here,” Wade said, gazing out at the enormous crowd. “I envision a lot of things. I can’t say I envisioned this. This parade down Biscayne Boulevard was once a vision by Coach Riley and now we’ve taken this ride three times. It’s special.”
When Riley got hired by the Heat, he talked at his introductory news conference about his vision of a parade down Biscayne Boulevard. It took Riley until 2006 to deliver on that hope, but now with three parades in eight seasons, the Heat are getting used to these celebrations.
“Their names are going to be respected and honored,” Riley said. “And that’s all we have. All we have is the name on the front of the shirt, which is the Heat, and the name on the back of the shirt. And that’s why we play.”
Miami became the sixth franchise in NBA history to win consecutive championships, after topping the San Antonio Spurs in this year’s finals for the third title overall for the Heat franchise, needing a Game 7 to get it done. Wade and Udonis Haslem — a Miami native who said “this is what it’s all about” — are the only players to be part of all three titles, and Wade insisted Monday that the city is going to be his home now for good.
“This is my home. They’ve treated me well since Day One,” Wade said. “I’ll be here for probably the rest of my life in this amazing city. I thank the Miamians for accepting me as one of their own.”
Miami needed to win Games 6 and 7 of the finals to capture the title, and needed a huge late comeback in Game 6 just to force the ultimate game. Down by five with less than a half-minute left in regulation, James and Ray Allen made 3-pointers — Allen’s coming with 5.2 seconds left — to force overtime, and the Heat ultimately prevailed to get into Game 7.
“I have to say that is the biggest shot I ever hit in my career,” Allen said.
Along the parade route, one vehicle carried a number of uniformed military personnel. The Heat have honored military members before every home game in Miami for the past several seasons.
Police reported no major problems, and bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs were spotted working their way through the crowd. City officials banned fans from carrying backpacks, though several were spotted along the route and some people were searched randomly for security reasons. The huge crowds and parking difficulty did not seem to take away from the fans’ celebratory mood.
“It’s the excitement of something that doesn’t come around too often, even though we’ve been lucky to experience it two years in a row,” said Heat fan Blake Thames, who made the trip down from Palm Beach County.
Some fans began arriving before sunrise Monday, and traffic into downtown was extremely heavy as people hoped to get close enough for a glimpse of the celebration.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” James said. “This is unbelievable to be a part of such a great franchise and to be able to go back-to-back.”
Players spent the weekend celebrating. Some are planning to start vacations later this week, while others will remain in South Florida for at least a few more days.
“All the fans that we’re seeing here is who supported us throughout the whole season, man,” James said. “This is the least we could do is ride through the city and show our appreciation.”