MIAMI - Dwyane Wade treated Saturday like a normal game day. Pre-game meal, massage, long shooting workout on the court more than two hours before tip-off.
When he'll do all that again remains anyone's guess.
Wade and Heat teammates LeBron James and Chris Bosh were among the headliners Saturday night in the South Florida All-Star Classic, an exhibition game featuring nine NBA all-stars at Florida International. On the 100th day since the NBA lockout was announced — and with Commissioner David Stern having said the first two weeks of the regular season may be cancelled as early as Monday — fans and players were both jittery over the immediate future.
"This is very unfortunate, this situation, to be in when you have two sides that at the end of the day have the same goal, just two different ways of getting there," Wade said in a pre-game interview with The Associated Press. "We both want to grow this game. We both want the NBA to be as good as it can. We want everyone to succeed. But we both have two different ways of getting there.
"To know that you're close but you're so far away is sad in a sense," Wade added. "But that's the nature of business. The only thing we can do is keep plugging at it."
A person familiar with union matters told The AP that the NBA players' association is trying to schedule a regional meeting in Miami on Sunday and another Monday in Los Angeles. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because most details of the talks are being kept private, said no formal briefings between players and union officials took place Saturday.
"We'll play any day, any time," said James, who organized much of the game. "That's why we're here tonight, giving back to our fans and what they deserve and letting them know that no matter what's going on with our situation, we're going to play the game and play at a high level."
On Friday, word came that the NBA would only continue talks with the union if players agreed to a 50-50 revenue split before returning to the table. Players were guaranteed 57 per cent of basketball-related income under the previous collective bargaining agreement and have proposed lowering it to 53 per cent in a new deal, but that remaining three per cent represents an unbridged gap of about $120 million.
The game at FIU, where Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas is a coach, sold out in less than two hours. Many fans stood for hours in drenching rain to get the best available seats in the gym on Saturday, "which shows what sort of fans we have here in Miami," Wade said. James tried to reward as many as possible with T-shirts and free samples of Sheets Energy Strips, a product he's heavily involved with.
"We are definitely in awe of their presence here tonight," Thomas said.
Thomas is a former president of the NBA players' association and while Wade, James and Bosh were getting questions about the prospects of regular-season games being wiped out, the former Detroit guard jumped to their defence.
"The players aren't cancelling the game, so they shouldn't take the responsibility, nor should they have the fault of carrying the burden for cancelling games," Thomas said. "They're willing and ready to play."
The gym was filled long before tip-off, fans filling the building all the way to the very top of the bleachers.
And they got the sort of show they sought, too.
In the first quarter Wade elevated in the lane to block a shot by James, drawing a loud reaction from the crowd. Of course, there was plenty of exhibition aspects as well — like Team LeBron "coach" Udonis Haslem yelling at his side to play tougher defence, then asking rather diminutive comic Kevin Hart, who was coaching Team Wade, if he could dunk. Hart retorted by telling Haslem his jeans were too tight.
Several charities are benefiting from the game, including Mary's Court, the foundation started in honour of Thomas' late mother and one which was getting a $100,000 boost to its coffers. A scholarship fund at FIU is also receiving some proceeds from the event, which also drew commitments from Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay and a slew of other NBA players.
Several players changed personal schedules to be there, and Paul — a former Wake Forest star — left the Demon Deacons' football win over Florida State on Saturday to catch a quick flight to Miami, arriving at the arena about 90 minutes before game time.
"That's the bond that we have for one another," James said. "Not only as teammates, but guys on other teams as well."
Many players wore Nike T-shirts before the game with the slogan "Basketball Never Stops," and most players had the letters BBNS — the acronym for that — on the backs of their jerseys, as has happened at the other major exhibitions players have been involved with in recent weeks. Players had hometowns, not their NBA teams, announced during the pregame introductions. For example, Wade was introduced to the Miami crowd as "Chicago's own, and your very own."
"Just pulling up and seeing the fans excited outside about the game of basketball just puts you in the right state of mind," Wade said.