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Taking you inside the joyous Heat locker early Friday: players, Arison, Gabrielle Union speak out

Champagne flowed, music pulsated and joy washed over the euphoric Heat locker room into the wee hours Friday morning, players jumping on their seats, dancing to the rhythmic beats and relishing every moment of this exhilarating coronation.

Amid the merry mayhem, members of the Heat family, and their loved ones, paused for reflection:

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For owner Micky Arison, winning in Dallas in ’06 “was great, but to do it in front of your home fans is the greatest feeling in the world. It’s unbelievable. To get behind three series in a row – this is unbelievable! I thought we were the better team last year, but we weren’t ready.”

These playoffs, Arison said, “were the biggest rollercoaster ride I can ever remember, down 1-2 to Indiana, and everybody saying we’re too small now that Chris Bosh was out. Down 3-2 to Boston, everybody wrote us off.  I got thousands of tweets – 'trade this, fire this.’ Let’s wait until it’s all done and then see who’s smiling.”

Mike Miller, whose seven three-pointers were the most ever by a non-starter in a Finals game, eyeballed Arison afterward, “and I told him, ‘You have the world’s greatest timing!” Arison said. “So much contribution – Norris Cole. Shane Battier was huge. Everybody kept saying we’re a two-man team or three-man team. Well, which team was a two-man team?  Oklahoma City is an amazing team and they’re going to have a lot of opportunities for this.”

And what about LeBron James? “LeBron’s the best!” Arison said, smiling ear to ear. “He’s gotten so much crap and he doesn’t deserve it. I don’t care where they live, they should enjoy his special talents because he’s a special player. Game 6 in Boston may have been the greatest performance I’ve ever seen. He’s amazing.”

And Dwyane Wade “had an up-and-down playoffs, but when it counted, he was there,” Arison said. “He had a great game in Indiana. We needed it.”

Did the world root against this team? “I never believed that, going around the country, seeing Heat jerseys every where I went, places like the Philippines and China,” Arison said. “It felt sometimes like all the national media was against us. I felt [people] appreciated what a unique talent we have on this team, not just LeBron. This was a special team to watch.”

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There was Jennifer Miller, standing on her husband’s locker-stall, soaking in the moment while Mike ambled around the arena, having his picture snapped and doing interviews.

“He’s a warrior, he’s a great player, and it was such a time coming for him,” Jennifer Miller beamed on a night her husband drained the second-most three-pointers ever in an NBA Finals game (behind only Ray Allen’s eight). “His mom and I were holding each other crying.”

She knows her husband’s back causes him “some pain. But he won’t tell me how much. Getting out of bed, he’s like, ‘Argh!' Every time I say, ‘Are you OK?’ he says, ‘I’m fine.” I tell him to stop grimacing because I can’t take it anymore in the stands!”

In the bowels of the arena, Miller speaks about his “roller-coaster” two-year Heat tenure – “up and down, but worth every minute of it. Through the injuries, I’m just glad they didn’t take me back to the barn and put me down.”

Miller faces a decision about whether to retire at 32. He needs back surgery, but it’s difficult to envision any athlete walking away from $18.6 million left on a guaranteed contract.

“I’ve got to make the best decision for everybody involved, not only myself but the team, and make sure I’m not a liability,” he said. “We’ll  visit the doctors and see what parts work and don’t and go from there. If it is [the end], I couldn’t picture a better point to go out on top like this.”

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Gabrielle Union stood on boyfriend Dwyane Wade’s locker seat, trying to put it all in perspective.

“This,” she said, “was the game I wanted him to play. When he got in early foul trouble, he didn’t hang his head.”

What do you most admire about Dwyane? “His resilience,” she said. “Everybody makes mistakes in life. He doesn’t make the same mistake twice. We’re all just so supportive, whether that’s his mom, me and his dad. Everyone who loves him. He never makes excuses, he’s never going to complain, he’s going to get back.”

And then, a playful jab: “Sometimes I wish he would get back a little sooner,” she joked about his occasional tendency to linger a bit in the backcourt when he doesn’t get a foul call.

Wade couldn't fall asleep until 4 a.m. the night before Game 5, then woke up and called LeBron four hours later.  

"What they wanted to do, more than anything, was to play a complete game of basketball," Union said. “They kept saying, ‘We haven’t played a complete game yet. We have defensive lapses. We have offensive lapses.’ For them to play such an amazing, complete game was a beautiful thing to watch.

“Mike Miller was an assassin! Shane Battier has been an assassin! Chalmy [Mario Chalmers] is like the baby I’ve never had. For Chalmy to step up the way he did, unbelievable. After all the negativity and all the haters, they didn’t win today!

"The poor man who was a survivor of the bath salt attack [Ronald Poppo]. When they said, 'Anything you want to say?' He said, 'Let's go Heat!' It's about surviving and living for the next moment. If that man did not personify what that is, nothing will. Real Heat fans. Charles Barkley said we don’t have real Heat fans. Point to that man. We have real Heat fans.”

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There was Udonis Haslem, who’s the happiest man in the world who willingly gave up $14 million - the difference between what Dallas and Denver offered him in 2010, compared to the five-year $20 million deal he signed to stay with the Heat.

“We rolled the dice, we sacrificed to come here, and it all paid off,” he said. “Our character showed.”

Haslem and Wade were the only players on both the Heat’s 2006 Heat championship team and this one. But this title is “way better, 10 times better,” Haslem said, “because of all we’ve been through. It felt all the time like the world was against this Heat team. LeBron’s postseason was similar to what we got from D-Wade in ’06.”

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Standing in the middle of the blissful bedlam was Shane Battier, who noted that after Bosh’s injury, “it took a 215-pound power forward” – speaking of his move over from small forward. “Indiana tried to out-tough us. Boston tried to out-kick us. We were supposed to kneel by the end. We were not going to be denied once we got here. We got better with every game. We always figured it out.”

Battier, who won an NCAA title at Duke, waited 11 years for a NBA one. “You never think it’s going to happen to you,” he said. “But that’s why I wanted to come here. All I wanted was a chance.”

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There was Juwan Howard, exulting and dancing, redness in his eyes and passion in his voice, speaking emotionally not about himself, but LeBron.

“I don’t know what people will say now,” Howard said. “He’s done everything! Now, what are they going to try to beat him up about? What did he do wrong this time? He’s LeBron James, world champion! Give the guy a break. Everybody wrote us off, like we weren’t going to win the big one.”

For Howard, it was first championship of an 18-year career, ending one of the league’s longest droughts. (Kevin Willis needed 19 years to win his first). He’s also the first member of Michigan’s famous Fab Five college team to win a ring. ESPN's Jalen Rose, another member of that Fab Five team, came into the locker-room after the game to give Howard a tearful embrace.

“I gave Juwan a hug,” Arison said, “and I told him the irony of the commissioner voiding that [Heat] deal, I don’t know, 15 years ago, and for you to win a championship here. The Fab Five finally got one!”

NOTE: For postgame comments from James and Wade - and a look at where James' postseason run ranks historically, plus what five Hall of Famers told me about that run - please see my post. 

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