MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James grabbed a microphone, then turned and pointed at the 4,000 fans who packed the arena that hosted the South Florida All-Star Classic.
Their cheers nearly drowned out his words.
“There’s no us without you guys,” James said. “Every last one of you guys.”
Such was the scene in Miami on Saturday night at the exhibition hosted by James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — an emotional outpouring from fans, similar to what’s happened at other games that have popped up during the NBA lockout. The NBA preseason schedule was supposed to open with five games on Sunday, but that slate was canceled long ago and the first two weeks of the regular season are now in jeopardy as well.
“There’s still time,” Heat player representative James Jones said. “There’s always time. Anything can happen. But you have to be realistic and understand that just because there’s time it doesn’t mean that something will get done. But on the flip side, something can get done.”
On Sunday, a person with knowledge of the plans told The Associated Press that top negotiators for the NBA and players’ association had agreed to meet again, two days after the union said the league insisted it accept a 50-50 split of revenues as a condition for returning to the negotiating table. Players balked at that demand.
So everything remains very uncertain, and that was one of many reasons why fans were in no hurry to leave after seeing James, Wade, Bosh and a slew of other stars play at Florida International on Saturday night.
Simply stated, those fans aren’t sure when they’ll see them again.
“The fans need the game,” said NBA veteran Caron Butler, who ended last season with the champion Dallas Mavericks. “They miss the game. And we want to play it.”
Wade asked the players to stick around after Saturday’s game ended for what turned into an hourlong meeting on the status of the labor negotiations. The AP has learned Wade is trying to become more involved in the talks, and urged those who were in the room with him late Saturday night to be as “informed” as possible about what’s at stake in this next labor agreement.
One fan wearing a Wade jersey held up a large sign during Saturday’s game, urging NBA Commissioner David Stern to find a way to get a deal struck and end the lockout. And after the game, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said he thought it was certain that the first two weeks of the regular season — at least — would soon be canceled.
Players say they’re just going to keep working, just in case they’re soon summoned for training camps.
“You’ve just got to deal with it,” Golden State’s Dorell Wright said. “Our thing is to stay calm and take the best deal for us. We won’t jump the gun. We’re going to stay here, stay together as a union and hope that the right deal comes along.”
Wright stood near midcourt and just stared at the scene inside FIU’s arena after the game, as fans begged players for T-shirts, jerseys, a handshake, an autograph, a photo, anything.
He said he wished everyone in the NBA — including those on both sides of the negotiating table — could have had that view.
“Somebody needs to open their eyes,” Wright said. “These fans love us and without them we wouldn’t be who we are today. These are our No. 1 supporters, besides our families and they love the game just like we do. We definitely want to be on the court. Hopefully something happens.”