NOTE: I did not post this sooner because I was waiting for Little Dude’s awesome photo with Lebron James. We received it the other day, but have been asked not to post it on social media. So, you’re just going to have to imagine it. All I can say is Lebron and Little Dude both had huge grins on their faces — best photo ever. :)
Little Dude’s Make-A-Wish started off in the best way possible: A ride to the airport in a stretch limousine. This certainly made the 5:30am pick-up time a lot more palatable. It was odd — but also great — having a trip planned out for us, including the limo pick-up, flights, seat assignments, rental car, and hotel.
Little Dude was thrilled when we arrived at our hotel and his name was up in lights on the screen by the elevator, along with the other “Wish” kids staying there. When we entered our room, there was a sign welcoming him, along with a variety of his favorite snacks. We had the rest of the day to relax, swim, and explore. The Florida weather was perfect. We had a view of the American Airlines arena from our room, and we all were so curious to see what would happen there at the Meet-and-Greet the next day.
Another early wake-up call and all the families met the “Wish” representative in the lobby at 7:30am. We walked over to the arena together and waited by the V.I.P. entrance. We were checked in family by family and brought into the Grey Goose Lounge, where the players usually hang out. The Miami Heat announcer, Eric Reid, greeted us and talked to us about the team, their impressive championship wins, and told us a little bit about the schedule for the day. He said there were some surprises ahead, so we were still kept wondering.
First on the agenda was watching the team practice. That alone was AWESOME. Usually, these practices are closed to the public and even to the employees. They made an exception that day and let us watch the first 45 minutes of their practice. All three of my dudes were sitting there in awe, almost not believing that they were watching their favorite NBA players — including Lebron James himself — practice only a few feet away. We could hear the players joking around with one another, but mostly they took their practice seriously, despite the fact that they had an audience of about 150 people.
From there, we received a tour of the facilities, including the weight room, media room, Culp room, and of course the locker room. Here is Little Dude’s foot compared to Dwayne Wade’s slides:
Lunch was served to us in the Dewar’s Club, normally reserved for VIPs. Burnie, the team mascot and the Heat Dancers were mingling with all of us. My two older boys seemed especially happy to pose for a photo with the dancers. I can’t imagine why…
After lunch, we were brought down to Championship Alley, where the players wait before entering the arena. They lined up the kids in a very precise order, though none of us knew why. Suddenly, we heard music playing from the arena, and the line started to move. When we got closer, we figured out what was going on. One by one, each of the Wish kids had their name announced by the Heat announcer and they ran out on to the court and high-fived all 15 Miami Heat players. They literally simulated a real game environment by having a few hundred volunteers in the stands clapping their hands to the music, the fire machines spitting out a giant flame after each name was called and projecting their name and face up on the jumbo-tron. It was unreal and fantastic at the same time. I almost broke down and cried. A mom standing in line with us was weeping. You’ll probably weep too — check out this brief snippet:
The 35 kids were then seated at one of five different stations on the court. Each child received a basketball and the players rotated to each of the stations, signing the balls, taking photos with the kids, and making small talk. The parents and siblings were not allowed on the court floor so that the Wish kids could receive full attention from the players. My other two dudes were a little bummed out about this, but we reminded them that this was Little Dude’s and the other kids’ wish, not theirs. We took some good photos from our vantage point, but there was a professional photographer who captured their glowing smiles the best.
The players handed out large bags of swag …each child received a Miami Heat jersey with their last name on the back. Norris Cole #30 point guard, saw Little Dude fumbling with his jersey and helped him put it over his head. The bag also had basketball sneakers, Beats earphones, several pairs of basketball socks, and many other items. It was a Heat fan’s early Christmas for sure. Little Dude was then taken “backstage” to pose with some other kids for a photo and apparently Dwayne Wade surprised them and appeared in the photo with them. The families were then invited to take a photo with their child behind the three championship trophies. We were given our tickets to the game the next night and toted his bag of swag back to the hotel.
The Saturday night game versus Cleveland was a great one to see live. Although it was close, the Heat players did not disappoint and won the game. Afterwards, we picked up a DVD of the previous day’s events along with a poster that featured Little Dude as the 16th player, with all the other 15 Heat players.
The final analysis? Little Dude said it was the best weekend of his life…can’t ask for more than that!!
Thank you to Make-A-Wish and the Miami Heat — you helped us all have an amazing few days and forget the past few difficult months…it was a weekend we will all cherish and remember forever. In case my synopsis wasn’t enough, click here to view a short video released by the Miami Heat about the event.
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