MIAMI — LeBron James was the first one on the floor, swishing the first shot he took. Dwyane Wade arrived with a candy cane behind his right ear. Chris Bosh gestured to the fans with his usual intensity.
Miami's stars gave fans what they wanted Thursday night.
But a Heat rookie might have provided the biggest surprise.
Norris Cole staked his claim for playing time right away this season, scoring 21 points in Miami's open scrimmage played before about 9,000 season-ticket holders. Cole figures to enter the season as the backup to Mario Chalmers, who re-signed with Miami earlier this month.
"I'm treating every practice like a game," Cole said. "I've got a great opportunity here and I'm doing all I can to show that I belong with this team."
Cole has had success at AmericanAirlines Arena before. He was on the same floor for Cleveland State's appearance in the 2009 NCAA tournament, scoring 22 points in a first-round upset of Wake Forest and 17 more in a second-round loss to Arizona.
"Norris has been great since we got him," said Heat assistant coach David Fizdale, who ran one of the teams while fellow assistant Keith Askins handled the other, while Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and assistant Ron Rothstein observed from seats near midcourt. "He's really astute. He's very mature. He's here early every day. He's the last to leave. Kind of kid you want to work with and get better."
Cole worked with James at times in Ohio this summer, and said he had some knowledge of the Heat system before he showed up for camp. He said he's taking a simple approach to camp.
"Hard work," Cole said. "I'm trying to help this team win a championship. That's what it's all about. That's all that it's about."
The open scrimmage was a clear thank-you of sorts for season-ticket holders, all of whom packed into the lower bowl of the arena. When the doors opened about an hour before game time, fans sprinted into the building, since most of the seats were first-come, first-serve. They roared when public address announcer Michael Baiamonte greeted them with "Welcome home, Heat fans," and they got louder when the first surprise of the night arrived.
Instead of accessing the court through the private tunnel emerging from their locker room, Heat players and staff came down the arena steps, slapping hands with fans.
"It's been too long," Spoelstra told the crowd.
James took the first shot of the warmups, a 16-footer that went in and drew a roar. Some of the hijinks were downright comical — Wade throwing a behind-the-back pass to James, who then went behind-the-back to Joel Anthony for a score, or Udonis Haslem wagging his finger menacingly to the opposing bench, or even Askins arguing with an official for a goaltending call in the first half.
Mostly, though, it was about getting in work. It's only about two weeks spanning first practice to first real game this season, about half the normal time in seasons not compacted by labor-related issues.
"We're looking forward to this season," Spoelstra told the crowd. "You're going to have a heck of a time in this arena here this season, all right? Enjoy."
Haslem led all scorers with 23 points, James also had 21, and Wade finished with 17.
The last game of the NBA's most recent season was on the same court, of course, when Dallas beat Miami to clinch the 2011 title in six games. And fans in Miami were angst-ridden for months over the status of the lockout, fearing that would be the last game played in any NBA city for a year or perhaps more.
Of course, a deal eventually got done, and just about everyone from the core of last season's Eastern Conference champions is back. Heat owner Micky Arison and team CEO Nick Arison were in their customary courtside spots, a few seats away from team president Pat Riley, who watched the proceedings closely.
"It feels like old times," Bosh said. "It feels like we're just tweaking a couple of things. We're just pushing each other to be better. It's good to be back. I've been looking forward to this for a long time."
Shane Battier, Eddy Curry, Mike Miller and Eddie House were held out with various injuries. That didn't stop fans from chanting "We want Shane" at least twice, the new Heat forward acknowledging the cries with a broad smile each time. Battier and Cole figure to be the only two players who weren't on last year's team that will begin this season in the rotation.
The Heat picked up Cole on draft night for his speed and savvy, both of which were on full display.
It was Cole's "coming out party," Micky Arison said on Twitter during the game. And Cole's new teammates were impressed as well.
"He can play the game of basketball," Wade said. "You can't teach what he has."