Heat arrive for camp Monday night
Serious people have serious jobs at Hurlburt Field, a U.S. Air Force installation in Florida's Panhandle that houses the 1st Special Operations Wing.
For them, the next few days will be more about fun and games than usual.
Taking training camp 650 miles from home, the Miami Heat will arrive at Eglin Air Force Base late Monday night, then get to work Tuesday morning when two-a-day basketball practices begin.
And for the airmen, the visit from the Heat is a diversion that's leaving them almost giddy.
"It's been a morale booster," Airman First Class Nickolas Fisher said. "Everybody's talking about it on base. Everybody wants to go."
Few, if any, will be attending. Practices will be closed, though some events where the Heat interact with the military personnel are scheduled.
After we went up and visited, we thought it would be a perfect place to train. There was never any other agenda other than that. ... We think it turned out to be a great situation.” -- Pat Riley
The Heat will stay at an on-base hotel at their expense, eating catered meals, even bringing in beds large enough to accommodate NBA-sized men. When they're not on the court, they'll work out using the same facilities the airmen use. Mona Noel, a front desk clerk at the lodge, said her cell phone has been busy nonstop with requests from friends and family who want to know about the special guests.
Don't ask her to put you through to LeBron James's room. Not happening, Noel said.
"After we went up and visited, we thought it would be a perfect place to train," Heat president Pat Riley said. "There was never any other agenda other than that. ... We think it turned out to be a great situation."
Miami reviewed a number of spots for camp, never finding the perfect fit until trainer Jay Sabol brought the idea of Hurlburt and Eglin to coach Erik Spoelstra. It didn't take long for Spoelstra to get on board, and eventually, the deal got done.
This will be a Heat training camp unlike any other. More than 250 media members have applied for credentials.
James will be the star attraction Monday at Heat media day, but he spent Sunday night at the Miami Dolphins' game against the New York Jets. Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were also in the crowd.
And now comes a new story line: A boot camp, so to speak.
"At first I didn't think it was actually true," Staff Sgt. Fatimat Bello said. "I was like, 'Oh, this is just hype. It's not going to actually happen. They're not coming to Hurlburt Field.' And then I got pretty excited about it."
Bello is from Louisiana, partial to the New Orleans Hornets. She's a basketball player, competing in a women's league at Eglin.
"My teammates and I have been trying to stalk a little bit," Bello acknowledged. "It's not working out too well."
Fisher also plays recreationally. He followed James' offseason movements closely, especially after all the fallout over the two-time reigning MVP deciding to leave Cleveland.
Chances are, if he and James cross paths, the new Heat forward might like the way Fisher thinks.
"This isn't the first time a reigning MVP switched teams, because Moses Malone did it in '82 going from the Rockets to the 76ers and he played with Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks," Fisher said. "So if they did it, I don't see why LeBron can't do it."
The Heat have a long history of supporting the military. Riley started the "HomeStrong" program to honor soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and at least two are recognized by the Heat before every home game. The team has also thrown Christmas parties and other events for the military.
There's certain ideals the Heat and Air Force share, including excellence, commitment, strength, courage and "most importantly, using those values in a team environment," said Col. Michael T. Plehn, 1st Special Operations Wing commander.
Spoelstra couldn't agree more.
The way he sees it, this road trip is to help a team with many new faces become a cohesive unit before a title march.
"It's a great opportunity anytime you can go away, to be around each other for every meal, bus rides, a lot of that you can't manufacture when you do it at home," Spoelstra said. "And where we're going, with the commitment that's there to sacrifice and service, it fits in great with what we want to do."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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