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Miami's star power transcends game

So this is what it's like at the center of the NBA universe.

It's Friday night on the edge of Biscayne Bay where the only light brighter than the glow from across the water on Miami Beach is the starshine radiating from American Airlines Arena.

Pete Rose, taking a break from his career as a professional autograph signer, is in the house.

Julius Peppers, hanging around after the Chicago Bears' thumped the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night, is in the house.

Rapper Birdman is in the house. So are Lil Wayne and Serena Williams and a professional wrestler called the Big Show.

And, of course, LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh, the player who was good enough to get Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt within a game of the national championship, are in their house.

Pro basketball now revolves around the Miami Heat, which has given the NBA a team that transcends the game and hits the touchstones of modern culture. They aren't just covered by SI and ESPN but TMZ, too.

For good or bad, that's when you know you've arrived.

The Heat is an event. There's even a big-top tent located beside the arena. OK, so it's there for a Cirque du Soleil show but were it a little larger, it could be fitted over the big building that LeBron now calls his office.

It was the Charlotte Bobcats' turn Friday night to see how close they could fly to the sun - and they nearly created an eclipse, overcoming a 21-point deficit on the road only to lose at the end 95-87.

As good as Stephen Jackson was scoring 30 points, that's how frustrated Gerald Wallace was, earning himself $4,000 in fines and the final 64 seconds off his two technical fouls on a night when he was asked to guard James.

It wasn't James who Wallace was mad at. It was primarily official Steve Javie who whistled the second technical.

But it's easy to dislike the Heat, too.

The team charges $12 for a hot dog and $22 for what's called a sashimi tasting if you're sitting in the lower level seats where the beautiful and sometimes surgically enhanced people sit. The people with the most expensive seats are easy to pick out because they're the ones strolling in long after the game has started, missing LeBron's signature powder cloud before tipoff.

Then there's the basketball envy.

There's a recession going on and the Heat is awash in riches. You can argue whether LeBron was right or wrong when he picked Miami over Cleveland but the way it was presented - the televised announcement and the celebration of excess - came off as tacky.

That's why there has been an understandable backlash against the Heat, but it's not surprising.

The Heat didn't look special Friday night. In fact, they looked like the Los Angeles Clippers for a good portion of the second half.

Still, James had 32 points, Bosh had 22 points and 14 rebounds and Dwyane Wade had 11 points and the flu.

The Heat, to use Larry Brown's words, is a work in progress. Imagine the finished product.