Quest for three straight starts in The Bahamas
Guardian Sports Editor
Published: Oct 02, 2013
LeBron James said that it’s great to be welcomed with open arms. Dwyane Wade said that this is his fantasy camp and joked that Atlantis stole his idea. Chris Bosh kind of compared the sweet Junkanoo music on Monday night to Caribbean Carnival, formerly Caribana, in Toronto, where he spent the first seven years of his NBA career.
Yes, the entire Miami Heat team appeared to be thrilled to be in The Bahamas, even though they are cognizant of the fact that they are here for work - a three-day training camp over at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. It’s the first time that the Heat’s training camp has ever been held outside of Florida.
The Heat were welcomed with the sound of junkanoo music on Monday night at Odyssey Aviation, as they disembarked a private jet from Miami around 9:30 p.m. Immediately they were bussed to Atlantis, where they will spend the next couple of days practicing before returning to Miami on Friday.
Yesterday was all about getting back in a familiar setting though - on a basketball court. The Heat held the first of three two-a-day training sessions yesterday, will get back to work at 9 a.m. today, and then wrap things up on Thursday. Both sessions, at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, are closed to the general public and the media.
Head Coach Erik Spoelstra said that even though they are in “paradise”, they have to remember that they are here for work and can’t be caught up in all of the amenities of Atlantis.
“Our guys are mature. We’re not worried about the distractions,” said Coach ‘Spo’, as he is often called. “This is an opportunity for our guys to enjoy an environment while at the same time, being at work. Today was just about getting our bodies moving in defensive sets. Our guys are very fit. They are very close to where they were when we left after the finals. That’s a positive, because guys certainly need to get in better basketball shape, and that is what this camp is all about. Today, we didn’t do one offensive drill. Our foundation is our defense - just to get to work and lay down the foundation.”
As a matter of fact, the one common phrase that kept being repeated yesterday was that, “we’re here for work,” and not a leisure trip.
“A gym is a gym, no matter where you are. Once you get in here, you’re sweating, and you know that you’re back to work,” said four-time league MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP LeBron James. “We think that it is an opportunity for us to spend a lot of time together, and to do it in an environment that our guys can enjoy, but at the same time we know that we’re here for work.” As for the reception on Monday night, James said that it was nice of the Bahamian people to welcome them in that fashion, and they’re looking forward to the rest of the trip.
“I thought that was pretty cool. We’re humbled by it,” said James. “It was nice of them to welcome us with open arms. It’s still work for us. Guys know what they need to do no matter where we are. We just want to get back in the rhythm of things. We’re a veteran ball club so we know the system, but we’re going to go over it and just maintain the focus.”
Wade thanked Atlantis and The Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism for being gracious hosts, but he also reiterated that they are here for work, and to refresh their minds back to the game of basketball.
“They gave us a great place to come here and work. Just to be here in this setting and around each other as a goup, and have some us time because we don’t have that as much as we would like, is a good thing. This is our element in here, where we’re really comfortable. It’s a change for us. It’s a good thing to get away sometimes for a change of scenery.”
Wade, also a former NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP), said that they know that their fan base has grown, and they particularly appreciate the support they get from the Bahamian people.
The other member of the Heat’s ‘Big Three’ Chris Bosh said that the experience so far has been awesome.
“It was just cool that they were out there showing us love in the rain (reception on Monday night). It was really nice,” he said. “We know that we have fans everywhere and to have another country for us, we appreciate that. We know that we’re in The Bahamas, but at the same time we’re here to put in work. We’re eager to get going this season. We know that we have a lot of competition out there, but we know that it’s all about us. We’re our own biggest challenge but as long as wo do what we’re supposed to do and stay together, we should have a good chance.”
Even newcomer Greg Oden, who has had a career laden with knee injuries and surgeries, said that he’s happy to be out there and is looking forward to the season.
“We’re in The Bahamas but it’s still training camp. We haven’t had time to enjoy anything. It’s training camp - it just happens to be in The Bahamas,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m happy to be out there and around this atmosphere with the guys. The Heat have the best plan for me to get better and improve, so I’m looking forward to it.”
According to reports, Oden was limited in practice yesterday, just going through a few contact drills on the makeshift basketball court which was transported into the Imperial Ballroom of Royal Towers in Atlantis. Oden has played just 82 games over five seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Atlantis staff managed to get two basketball courts inside the ballroom on Saturday - one used for the Heat’s practice sessions and the other just for shoot-around.
Both Bosh and James said that they like what they did with the court, and would love to come back to The Bahamas for training camp. Even coach Spoelstra said that it’s amazing, and they’re grateful for the assistance.
“We saw what it (inside the Imperial Ballroom) looked like empty about a month ago, and it was nothing like this. They did an amazing job in getting the courts down and making it look comfortable fort us,” he said. “When we showed up last night, they had a mini parade and a band waiting for us. It was pretty cool. We got in after nine, but they had so much energy, I think that our guys were ready to practice right after they landed. They have been very receptive anywhere in this facility, and always willing to help us with anything that we need and we really appreciate that. We have been planning this for a while, to get to a good environment and get away. So far, it’s been good, and it was a good first practice.”
That first practice session yesterday was all about defense - no offensive drills at all. Bosh said that given the mindset of the team, it really came as no surprise.
“Defense wins championships, that cliché is true. That’s Miami Heat basketball,” said Bosh.
Ed Fields, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs & Retail Services, at Atlantis, said that anything that goes toward promoting Atlantis and The Bahamas, they’re happy to be a part of.
“We have to remember that they are here to work and that is the reason for the tight security,” he said. “This is a slow time of the year, and we’re happy to have them. This shows our potential as a country. A basketball court is one of the hardest things to do in terms of sporting facilities. If the facilities are here, there are many people who want to come to The Bahamas and get away from their usual routine. This is relaxing, and we’re accommodating, and they know that they are properly secured. This bodes well for sports tourism in The Bahamas. This can only grow. We realize that we have a winner, and now we just have to focus on what we need to do.”
The two-a-day training sessions certainly have garnered a lot of attention, both locally and abroad. All of the media houses in The Bahamas have been represented over the first two days of the Heat’s visit, and all four major networks in the Miami area are here - ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. Also, ESPN and the Associated Press are here in The Bahamas covering the Heat.
Today at 2 p.m., Miami Heat President Pat Riley along with team officials and Vice President of Player Programs and Development Alonzo Mourning will conduct a session for about 200 Bahamian high school children, from all of the major high schools in New Providence, in the Imperial Ballroom. The Bahamas’ Junior Minister of Tourism and Miss Teen Bahamas are expected to be present. Also, a young American kid who got a kidney transplant, thereby benefitting from Mourning’s charitable work, is rumored to make an appearance.
Mourning, who himself underwent a kidney transplant during his NBA career, retired in 2009 after 16 seasons. In 1997, he established Alonzo Mourning Charities Inc. to aid in the development of children and families living in at-risk situations, and 10 years later, he along with other past and current athletes founded Athletes for Hope, a charitable organization which helps professional athletes get involved in charitable causes and inspires millions of non-athletes to volunteer and support the community.