People — 19 May 2014
Heat effects: How LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh have changed South Florida

 Editor’s noteThis story, one of our staff favorites mentioned in City & Shores 15th Anniversary issue, first appeared in the October 2010 issue of the magazine.  

By Dave Wieczorek

Our world as we knew it changed forever in July 2010.

It was the summer of the Big Three, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all signed $100 million contracts with the Heat. OK, so the Miami Thrice didn’t snuff out a war, cure a disease, end world hunger or even find a way to bring Democrats and Republicans to the table without one glum face spitting into another.

But anyway you look at it, South Florida has been slam dunked by Thrice. Life from the beaches to the Glades would never be the same. That’s what a panel of experts we rounded up correctly predicted.

Turns out pretty much everything that was hyperventilated back then wasn’t pure hyperbole. King James and his faithful squires delivered an NBA crown in 2012, duplicated the feat in 2013 and have positioned the Heat to repeat the repeat in 2014. Just as significant has been the trio’s admirable contributions to South Florida off the court.

“Heat games are entertainment people will pay for, want to be seen at and be passionate about,” says Ken Elder, president of Elder Sports Marketing in Boca Raton. “The signing of James, Wade and Bosh has worked out in every way people expected – and then some.”

 With the Heat cranking up for a fourth NBA Finals in four years, we decided to revisit some of our prescient panelists.

Back then, in July 2010, LeBron announced he would team up with Dwyane and Chris to bring a yachtload of NBA titles to town. City & Shore suggested that in the process Miami Thrice would sprinkle their stardust on every aspect of our lives: where we eat, what we wear, where we live, what we listen to, and, yes, even how virtuously – or not – we choose to lead our lives. We also asked: Could athletes – even ones as talented and as prominent as the Three Kings – trigger the kind of cultural shift that the groundbreaking TV cop drama Miami Vice did 25 years earlier, when Crockett and Tubbs remade South Florida into a pastel paradise awash in hedonism, violence and flash?

The unscientific, anecdotal answer is an unequivocal “yes,” as our “Then-And-Now” journey will prove.

 Walking on Water

 THEN – “When I moved here in 1981, I went out to South Beach and there was no glitz,” recalled Les Standiford, a best-selling novelist, historian and Florida International University professor. “Every one of those Art Deco hotels had porches full of old folks cheek-by-jowl on the porch in their dark sun glasses staring out to sea. Miami Vice was the beginning of the end of that era.”

Standiford believed there is a correlation between Miami Vice, which debuted in 1984, and the metamorphosis of the city during the ’80s.

“I think the die is pretty well cast. This is already a glamorous place,” Standiford said. “Then again, people have said that in recent years the Madonnas have moved out, and now here’s a fresh crop of superstars. I suspect they will reinvigorate this glamour town.

“Who can say what influence these basketball players will have on the culture? But do I think they will have an impact? Heck yeah.”

 NOW – Are the Miami Thrice really everything we’d hoped for?

“Hey, sometimes things work out just like they’re supposed to,” says Standiford, a bit of tongue in cheek. “Three finals appearances, one ring in the vault and a second on the way. St. LeBron no longer needs to use a bridge to walk across Biscayne Bay, and courtside seats for the next finals game are going for $17,500. Lil Wayne couldn’t get in if he offered twice that much. Meantime, I hear Cleveland has been downgraded from its former status as a city and is now officially a roadside rest area.”

 THEN – More than 13,000 fans converged on American Airlines Arena to celebrate the signing of Wade, James and Bosh to $100 million contracts. Before the ink was dry James was blustering about winning five, six, even seven NBA titles. Overnight, South Beach hotels created sumptuous promotional packages “Fit for a King.” Economists predicted that the presence of the Ocean’s 3 would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for South Florida.

 NOW – Hard numbers are more difficult to come by than open three-point shots when Miami’s defense is at its stingiest, but few would deny a healthy cash flow throughout South Florida thanks to the Heat’s success. Take tickets, for example.

“The Heat are now selling tickets in three-year season-ticket deals,” Elder says.” We’re not talking premium tickets, just standard season tickets. That’s unheard of. It’s supply and demand. The fans are demanding it, saying: ‘Hey, we want to lock these up long term.’ ”

And this is not just a spectator sport. Fans who’ve always wanted to play hoops with the pros are ponying up $10,500 to play with Wade at his fourth annual Fantasy Basketball Camp July 31-Aug. 3 at The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood. The $10,500 fee includes three nights at the Diplomat, meals and four days of tournaments, special events, seminars and the chance to learn from Wade and other pros, the Sun-Sentinel reports. Past instructors have included Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and NBA legend Rick Barry, and folks such as actor Will Smith, rapper Young Jeezy, comedian Kevin Hart, and LeBron James have made appearances. (Go to dwyanewadefantasycamp.com to register).

 Celebrity Cash

 THEN – Fortunes can be made by tapping into Miami Thrice’s cool factor.

“Given that South Beach and the surrounding area is a brand in itself, you now have another brand. You don’t just have basketball players, you have the brand of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and Chris Bosh,” said Dr. Jim Riordan, director of Florida Atlantic University’s MBA in sport management program. “You’re taking an area that is already known for its glitz and bling, all the bells and whistles, and you’ve added on to that. Now people will want to go there – the club or the restaurant – because their gods, their idols have gone there.”

The game has indeed changed for the food and beverage and hotel trade.

Within hours of James’ signing, the Gansevoort Hotel in South Beach offered a one-night, $2,500 “VIP B-Ballers Suite” package, which included the use of a Ferrari, one of King James’ favorite sports cars. The Hotel Victor launched a contest on Facebook for its “Fit for a King” penthouse package valued at $10,000.

The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach has been a playground for the wealthy and the famous since it opened in 1954, spanning generations of celebrities from Frank Sinatra to George Clooney, the Clintons, Lady Gaga and innumerable sports superstars. Wade and James dined and danced at the Fontainebleau long before they became teammates.

“If a celebrity walks into the lobby, within 20 minutes hundreds of people in Miami know that Jamie Foxx is in the building or Michael Jordan is in the building,” said Jeffrey Klein, the Fontainebleau’s vice president of food and beverage operations.

Just that happened early in 2010.

“Michael Jordan walked straight through the lobby into our restaurant Gotham,” recalled Klein, who noted that word of Jordan’s arrival spread instantly via cell phones and   Twitter. “There were probably 400 people waiting outside the steakhouse.”

Elder added: “LeBron, Chris and Dwyane will have an effect all over the place, not just with the upper crust of society but all the way down to the person who has to work two or three jobs to support his or her family.”

 NOW – The Miami Heat commissioned the Washington Economics Group to analyze the team’s and the American Airlines Arena’s economic impact on South Florida. The study concluded that the two entities help inject $1.4 billion into the economy each year, including 21,000 jobs for South Florida residents. The study took into account not only the $439 million in direct benefits, such as the team’s operating expenses and spending by out-of-town teams and visitors, but also “externalities – intangible benefits” attributable to the presence of a successful sports franchise.

If the study is only fractionally accurate, Miami Thrice is the best bargain in town.

 On the Home Front

 THEN – How influential could the Heat brand – that is, Wade, James and Bosh – be in other arenas of commerce – real-estate, for instance? The three players may potentially invest tens of millions in new South Florida homes, but are we going to move to their neighborhoods – if we could afford to – just to live near our sports heroes?

No, said Mayi de la Vega of Sotheby’s International Realty in Coral Gables, and nor does a celebrity’s move to town do much to stimulate the real-estate market in general, she said. Talk – mostly rumors – about who’s selling what estate to which celebrity at what outrageous price is just entertaining buzz. She did remember, however, when athletes could affect the sale of homes, back in the Dolphins’ glory days when real-estate agents used “to organize our open houses based on whether the Dolphins were playing or not.”

 NOW – No matter how many rings are rung up, you and your fellow fans probably won’t put up For Sale signs in your front yards and rush out to slap a down payment on a mansion next to one of the Thrice’s palatial palaces. But LeBron, Dwyane and Chris did cause a ripple in the real-estate market with their purchases of new homes with price tags well into eight figures apiece, with Bosh’s $12.3 million Miami Beach bungalow topping the trio.

 Threads of Cool

THEN – The Heat players will likely wield more influence in what we wear rather than where we live. Miami Vice undercover cops Crockett and Tubbs (Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas) made T-shirts under Armani jackets, white linen pants and sockless loafers cool.

“Fortunes have been made tapping into ‘the coolness factor’ – and the Miami Heat is so hot right now they are the kings of cool,” said Sun Sentinel Fashion Editor Rod Hagwood. “There is no one better out there to start a fashion trend. Their sartorial influence can reach one of the hardest demographics to market toward: American men and boys. Fashion for that group moves at a glacial pace. You need a lot of heat to speed things up a bit.”

Superstar jocks are just the fuel.

“Athletes have powered the billion-dollar athletic-shoe market for decades,” Hagwood said. “Under Armour made its ‘bones’ when street ballers started wearing their athletic performance wear. And Tiger Woods ushered in the preppy look for a whole new audience. Before he prowled the links you’d never see a hip-hop-hipster like Sean Combs or Kanye West in WASPy argyle sweater vests or polos. Woods single-handedly made geek chic.”

 NOW – There might be more street ballers walking around in LeBron headbands than Armani jackets, but the Thrice have had an effect in at least one unexpected area of fashion.

“The biggest influence that the holy trinity of fashion gods – King James, Posh Bosh and Fash-Flash Dwyane – has had is that they have taken all the ‘gay’ out of trendy dressing for men,” says Hagwood, whose blog is linked at cityandshore.com. “They all have friends in the fashion world, sit front-row at runway shows and turned that walk to the locker room into a catwalk caper.

“And then when you look at those post-game press conferences, you can’t help but notice how their swag has the ability to wean the queen right out of men’s fashion.”

Pay It Forward

THEN – Stat sheets, profit sheets and fashion portfolios aside, the One-Three-Six brand’s biggest impact just might be on the kids watching every move that Wade, James and Bosh make on and off the court.

“Some kids get the misconception that they have to be the star of their team, that they have to go out and win the game by themselves,” said Orlando McCorvey, then assistant men’s basketball coach at Broward College who works with male and female athletes of all ages through his Triple Threat Basketball Training. “These three guys could show young players that you have to set aside your ego in order to win. We don’t know yet if Wade, James and Bosh can do that. If they can, it will show kids how everyone can play a role on a winning team.”

Whether pro athletes should be role models for kids is an ongoing debate, but you’ll find no bigger supporters of the idea than Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County.

“Eighty-three percent of the kids we serve live below the poverty line, but our message to them is that they can be anything they want to be, if they do it the right way,” said Gale Nelson, senior vice president for Big Brothers Big Sisters, who added that he expected “these three men of star power” with reputations as hard workers and solid citizens to show the kids the way.

Brian Quail, president and CEO of Broward’s the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, expected no less.

“When the kids hear athletes say, ‘I was like you, I grew up in a setting like you, my mom worked two jobs,’ there is that sense of sharing a significant background and experience [with the pro athletes],” Quail said. “The kids don’t want anything from the players. They just want to talk with somebody who has achieved.”

Nelson wanted to see the Heat trio continue to make an investment in the kids: “That should be their legacy, along with the championships they may win. In their press conference they said, ‘We want to make history.’ The championships they win will be a wonderful sports legacy, but their community legacy will be helping kids who will never win an NBA ring become champions in life.”

 NOW – By all accounts, the Thrice have followed through on their commitments to kids and community.

“Most kids I come across of all ages are mostly Heat fans and huge LeBron fans,” says McCorvey, now head coach of the Douglas High boys basketball program in Parkland. “I see LeBron shoes and jerseys at my camps all summer long. With him being such a team guy and about winning, that’s going to help kids develop – on and off the court.

“Heat basketball has never been as big as it is right now. The buzz is crazy. People who normally aren’t basketball fans are now Heat fans. It’s all over Facebook and Instagram.”

Where have the Thrice’s other contributions come into play?

“Just with the Indiana series the players gave some life lessons to the kids, with Wade being hurt and Bosh having some off games. That’s about overcoming adversity,” Quail says.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America reportedly benefited to the tune of $2.5 million thanks to a James-mandated share of the profits from ESPN’s broadcast of “The Decision,” James’ nationally televised announcement of his intention to join the Heat. James also donated $100,000 to Broward’s clubs, Quail says, when he signed his contract and “helped us outfit an entire computer system for one of the clubs.”

Hundreds of Broward kids have attended Wade’s summer camps, the fees for many of them paid by the Wade’s World Foundation, which provides educational support in the areas of literacy, health and mentor/fatherhood initiatives to youth in underserved communities. In May Wade was honored with a BET 2013 Humanitarian Award.

Bosh has helped raise funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters through his Team Tomorrow charity.

Nelson says the Heat players and organization have been “a wonderful partner. Their commitment to our workplace mentoring program has helped many of our high-school students choose a career path and continue their education.

“I cannot say enough about the partnership with Wade’s World Foundation and Bosh’s Team Tomorrow. Their ongoing support is greatly appreciated.”

Bigger Than Life

 THEN – All this raises a final question, one that goes a long way toward answering our original question about the capacity of superstar athletes to influence our culture: Why do we care so much about where Dwyane and LeBron and Chris live or where they dine and dance or what they wear?

“Because they’ve created something beyond themselves,” FAU’s Riordan said. “They attract the attention of people who have so many other things to care about and worry about. People see these guys as bigger than life.”

Les Standiford answered the question by drawing on historical perspective.

“Professional athletics have always had great appeal,” said Standiford, who knows something about superstars changing our culture, having written Last Train to Paradise, a book based on Henry M. Flagler, the ultimate Florida game changer. “Athletes are an easily accessible way to live vicariously.”

 NOW – All our experts agreed that all bets were off if Wade, James and Bosh didn’t win at least one championship ring with the Heat, in which case their stardust influence would disappear faster than fans from the American Airlines Arena. They did win a ring, and then a second, and are on the verge of a third.

The South Florida sports fan, Riordan says, “is a ‘win-now’ crowd that will find something to moan” about if the Heat don’t win another title. Elder, the sport-management expert, adds: “South Florida loves a winner. What the fans here care about is the product on the field and the star power there.”

Add it all up and it’s undeniable that Thrice has delivered in more profitable and honorable ways than Vice.

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