RALEIGH — The adoration for LeBron James began before the long before the tipoff and ended in a mob scene.
James scored 10 points in the Miamis 98-92 win over Charlotte, the designated home crowd. While fans were content to snap pictures and record video during pregame, a large group swarmed him on the floor after the final buzzer.
When we in our own arena, security does a good job, James said, noting that the postgame scene was not the norm. But its fine, the fans are really excited to get an opportunity to see us.
James said he enjoyed playing in the smaller venue, a phase of his career he skipped when he went straight from high school to the NBA. Head coach Erik Spoelstra also spoke highly of the change of pace.
This felt more like a home crowd, he said. We appreciate that. It felt a little bit different form a pro crowd, it was more of a college atmosphere. It was nice.
As the pregame clock ticked down, hundreds, if not thousands, of fans congregated around the corner of the floor where the Heat would enter, smart phones drawn.
Among them was Lisa Page, her husband Walter Page III, and the five kids they brought with them, all of whom had on some type of LeBron James apparel.
My husband got tickets the second they became available, Lisa said, as Jordan, Joshua, Walter IV and Sierra and Cyrus Demary all waited to see James. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them.
James led the Heat out of the tunnel and onto the floor as the flashes popped and crowd roared. He tipped his hand in recognition, and the fans proceeded to cheer the shots he made in warm-ups.
When introductions came, James was the first player announced. He received a standing ovation. The Page and Demary kids were part of that salute.
Tar Heels alum Brendan Haywood garnered a comparably loud cheer. Gerald Henderson, announced as a former Duke player, drew mild boos.
Shane Battier, though, who led Duke to the 2001 National Championship, drew applause. He finished with nine points, all on 3s.
Battier is the only Mike Krzyzewski-coached Duke player to reach the top of both college basketball and the NBA. In fact, only one other Krzyzewski-coached player, Danny Ferry, has ever won an NBA title.
Very different, Battier said about the two championships. Duke was special because I was the guy. I was a senior captain and a starter and an All-American. I had a big thumbprint on how that season transpired. Last year was different because I was inserted into the starting lineup in the playoffs. I had a really poor year up until the playoffs. There was a different satisfaction from being able to turn it on.
Battier played an average of 10 minutes more per game once last years playoffs started. The Heats run, of course, ended with James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company hoisting their first championship trophy together.
Battier hadnt played a basketball game in the Triangle since college, and he took the opportunity to catch up with a few friends still at Duke Monday night at a dinner for his Take Charge Foundation, which awards scholarships to deserving underprivileged students. He keeps tabs on his alma mater from afar, he said, and likes this years senior leadership.
Krzyzewski arrived not long after the tip, beating an extensive traffic jam. He sat a few rows up from the Heat bench with his grandkids, not far from the Page clan.
He visited both the Heat and Bobcats locker room after the games, stopping to talk to James and Dwyane Wade as well as Duke alumni Battier and Gerald Henderson.
He just said gosh, make a shot, you missed two in a row at the end, whats wrong with you? Battier said with a laugh. I said, Coach, there was a time when you knew me where if I missed one shot, I would stop shooting for a week and a half. Ive come a long ways from those days
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley