BOSTON — This looked much more like a Game 7 than a season opener.
Long before the fans made their way through security Tuesday, the hallways were lined several deep with reporters, piled up in droves trying to overhear whatever LeBron James said before his debut as a member the Miami Heat.
“I feel like a fish in a fish tank,” James said. “How fast can he swim?”
James’ pregame comments could hardly add any more hype to a game that the NBA could not have scheduled any better.
Boston’s new Garden was packed by the time opening lineups were announced, with James going first to the loudest round of “boos.” Celtics fans were ready to heckle a team so many have anointed as an inevitable dynasty in a city where it’s been done so many times before.
James, fellow Heat newcomer Chris Bosh and Miami mainstay Dwyane Wade were playing the Boston Celtics, who have had several superstar trios of their own that have accomplished what Miami’s new threesome joined to do.
Fans with digital cameras piled up in the lower rows, separated by a security ribbon from the professional photographers all looking for the first shots of the first of many “games of the season.”
Spike Lee made the trip north from New York and was courtside as Celtics fans poured in, where green T-shirts awaited them on every seat in the lower bowl.
A steady moan of “boos” greeted the Heat as they took to the floor, then the still half-empty arena echoed as fans cheered on the Celtics with a later part of the “Rocky” theme blaring over the PA system.
Even Shaquille O’Neal’s debut with the Celtics was only a minor splash — as minor as the 325-pound Shaq could make — until he slammed in an alley-oop from Rajon Rondo, followed by a freight-train two-hander that shook the Garden early in the first quarter.
A few hours before gametime, a single luxury suite ticket was listed for $18,824 on StubHub; by tipoff, it was gone (at an unknown price). Perhaps 100 reporters attended the Heat’s morning shootaround, and about 500 had been credentialed for the game — four times the usual number, Celtics spokesman Jeff Twiss said.
“You don’t usually see this many cameras unless you’re in the finals,” Wade said told a media phalanx four rows deep. “And it’s the first game of the season.”