PHILADELPHIA -- Dwyane Wade is still the captain in Miami.
He's still introduced last, and he's still the center of attention in all of the team's publicity material, but that's all just pageantry. Wade now has a lot in common with Derek Jeter in New York. Like Jeter with the Yankees, he will always be the most popular player for his franchise but Wade is no longer the straw that stirs the drink in south Florida.
In the Bronx, that title belongs to Alex Rodriguez. In South Beach, it took all of one day for LeBron James to seize the mantle.
James and Chris Bosh kicked off a new era for the Heat with a combined 38 points as Wade went down early with a hamstring injury in Miami's 105-89 exhibition opening win over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.
James scored 18 points on 9-of-18 shooting and played nearly 27 minutes in his Miami debut. The reigning two-time MVP also ignited the crowd with a no-look pass and a brilliant spin move resulting in a thunderous slam.
"I was just anxious to get back on the court," James said after his first outing on the hardwood since sending shockwaves through the NBA this summer with his much-publicized and often-criticized "Decision" to leave his hometown Cavaliers.
"It's something I waited for all summer. The reception from the fans was awesome."
Bosh, who also joined the Heat to form the aptly titled "Miami Thrice" led the way with 20 points and had six rebounds. Wade played just the first 3:17 of the game before exiting with a strained right hamstring.
Of course, preseason wins -- heck, even regular season wins -- aren't what it's going to about in Miami this season. Anything short of an NBA championship will be viewed as a disappointment.
The blockbuster moves by Pat Riley in the offseason that netted Wade two teammates with 11 All-Star appearances between them also brought a ton of pressure.
"Can these guys stay focused amidst the media circus effect and keep their eyes focused on winning the championship?," former Heat star Steve Smith asked before the game. "If they can do that, that is one key to success for their season."
A potential minefield of off-the-court distractions await. Already, Wade found himself in a little hot water back in July with this little faux pas:
"We're going to be wearing a bull's-eye," Wade said before his annual charity basketball game in July. "But that's what you play for. We enjoy the bull's- eye. Plus, there's going to be times when we lose two, three games in a row and it seems like the world has crashed down. You all are going to make it seem like the World Trade is coming down again, but it's not going to be nothing but a couple of basketball games."
In a society that grows touchier by the day, that kind of insensitivity during an off-the-cuff remark will spawn a million headlines that could lead to the losing streaks Wade so inartfully described.
"I hope these guys embrace it," former NBA star Chris Webber said of the scrutiny the Heat's three stars will face. "Don't apologize for getting together; don't tell us why it happened. Just beat everybody and say 'I told you so.'"
Already the posturing about James shrinking away from the big stage and deferring to Wade has evaporated. A well-liked "King" or not is still the best player in the world, and he won't be the one deferring.
"I'm never in 'defer' mentality," James said after the game last night.
Not everyone agrees that should be the course Heat coach Erik Spoelstra should take.
"I think in game situations, the flow of the game will dictate who will take the last shot," NBA Network analyst and Hall of Famer Kevin McHale said. "I like D-Wade for it. When in doubt, give it to D-Wade. I like him at the end of games."
In the end, more often than not talent tells the story in the NBA. That bodes well for the Heat and it's hard to imagine the team struggling much during the regular season, but chemistry should be the deciding factor come playoff time.
"It is going to be fun for the fans in Miami," Webber said. "These guys are so talented and unselfish that I think they are going to play basketball the right way. I think it is going to be a joy to watch no matter what happens at the end of the year."