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Heat stars blow off some steam in Shanghai

By Joseph Goodman, The Miami Herald –

SHANGHAI — The front door of the nightclub was simply out of the question. It was too dangerous. Even the Chinese toughs hired to protect the Heat here in Shanghai knew that.

The back door was the only option, and it wasn’t much better.

A crashing, sweating horde of humanity all hopped up on who knows what was there waiting to mob LeBron James. This was supposed to be Dwyane Wade’s private party, by invitation only, but someone had leaked the information, and everyone in Shanghai tried to crash the nightclub.

Forget international diplomacy, cracking skulls suddenly seemed like a reasonable option. No. Remain calm. Maybe this was just a normal Friday night in Shanghai.

The club of choice for the Heat’s one night out on the town was typical enough. Three floors, finely crafted wooden fixtures and familiar bass grooves lording over every sense in your body. The communist overtones of northern China and Beijing hide themselves well in Shanghai, a southern city that feels like a mix between New York and San Francisco in some areas and New Orleans and Amsterdam in others. It’s a cool town.

But the people trying to push into the club… there was nothing cool or internationally chic about them.

Ever seen old video footage of The Beatles when all the girls are losing their minds, screaming through raw throats and reaching out their arms over barricades at Paul and John? Most of those images are from The Beatles’ first tour of the United States in 1964. That was the scene at this Shanghai nightclub, except there were no barricades and no sweet little girls — just grown men and women acting like boy-band groupies and someone, in all their brilliance, had apparently thought it was a good idea to feed these people booze.

“Just push,” said one of the Heat’s staff members.

It took 10 minutes to break through the first floor. Wade’s party, sponsored by a Chinese social media company, was on the third.

For James and Wade, the trip to Beijing and Shanghai for the NBA’s 2012 China Games was an exhausting week of promotional appearances, shoe-company business, fan appreciation events, a few practices and two exhibition games. There wasn’t much time to relax, and this party was supposed to be one of those times. Most of the Heat’s players had elected to attend, so being the only journalist allowed into the event was a pretty good score.

James and most of the players were hanging out near the bar area of the third floor when I finally breached the multiple levels of security in place to keep out the crazies. The place was packed full of Americans and other internationals. Of the Heat’s contingent, there were the players, coach Erik Spoelstra, a few staff members and a couple of executives.

A section of the floor space had been roped off for the players and a mass of people, men and women, were surrounding the velvet barrier. These were the traditional sort of groupies I have become accustomed to in three seasons covering the Heat. Finally, I felt at home.

The dress code on the invitation to the party had said “smart and sexy,” and the many attendees were dressed appropriately. The promoters — the professional partiers charged with finding attractive people to populate a high-end event — had done their jobs well.

As for the guy in charge of the air conditioning, he should be fired. It felt like 90 degrees in the place. It was open bar, so I ordered, said hello to Ray Allen and made my way outside to enjoy the balcony. The stifling heat and gorgeous views would send everyone my way soon enough.

The nightclub was located across the Huangpu River from the players’ hotel and all the enormous skyscrapers. Shanghai is a boomtown, so everything that is new and big and in the postcards is actually not located in the city center. They’re in Pudong, which was once a suburb but is now the city’s financial district.

The enormous structures across the river glimmered and twinkled. Below the balcony, a dedicated group with “Wade” stickers under their eyes waited patiently for a glimpse of the players. Then, suddenly, all the lights went out over the river.

An ordinance requires the skyscrapers to turn off the tops of their buildings at 10 p.m. Still, even without lights the view was breathtaking. It was around that time James walked outside and found a seat.

“It is so hot in there,” he said.

James looked down at his iPhone and checked his Twitter feed. Like most (if not all) of the Heat’s players at the party, he was not drinking. James was wearing thick-framed gold-rimmed glasses, a buttoned-up vest and what looked like a multicolored ascot.

For a moment, he was alone and almost entirely by himself. He let out a road-weary sigh.

“I don’t know about you, but this trip has been pretty tiring,” James said.

For all my time in China, I never got more than four consecutive hours of sleep. Neither did James. Your body clock is so scrambled it just doesn’t allow it. During the week, James had to cancel a few Nike-sponsored events sponsored just to catch up on his rest. He stretched out his legs, a self-made barrier, and looked around him as the people on the balcony began closing in.

“Hey, LeBron, I know you read The Hunger Games,” said a man, American, clutching a beer. “I teach ninth-grade English and I tell all my students you read the books.”

“Oh, yeah,” James said. “Cool.”

The man asked James what he thought of the ending and James nodded his head, “It was a good read.”

James looked over and smirked ever so slightly. He read The Hunger Games during last season’s playoffs and ever since then people have been asking him about the book. The English teacher suggested a reading list of more science fiction, and James thanked him.

Below the balcony, the DJ played Frank Sinatra’s New York. James’ night was almost over. He was ready to leave.

A small child danced around the balcony, oblivious to the giant men surrounding him. Rashard Lewis and Joel Anthony were leaning against the balcony’s rail as fans screamed for their attention below.

“Who brought that kid in here?” James said, shocked by the sight of the toddler. “It’s way past his bedtime.”

And past James’ as well. He rose to his feet, nodded his head good-bye and walked past the toddler back into the club. His night was done.

While James was completely spent, Mario Chalmers was obviously full of energy. He bounced around, cracking jokes and enjoying the night. He looked down from the balcony and spotted Udonis Haslem, rolling into the party about two hours late.

“U.D. is here,” Chalmers said. “It’s on now.”

Remember that dress code? U.D. doesn’t do “smart and sexy.” He had on jeans and a simple black hoodie jacket. Haslem is tough and blue collar and genuine at all times. He strode unnoticed past the group of fans below.

Allen joined Lewis and Anthony on the edge of the balcony, and then it happened — the highlight, or lowlight of the night, depending on your perspective. One of the boy-band fans had somehow found his way up the stairs, past security and onto the balcony. He rushed toward Allen, pushing him backward against the railing.

“Sign my shirt,” he screamed in broken English into Allen’s face. “I love you! I love you! I love you!”

It was a guttural scream. He held out a pen and screamed it again.

“You don’t want me to sign you shirt,” Allen said to the man, who appeared to be in his mid-20s. “What’s your momma going to say when you come home with a dirty shirt?”

“I love you!” he screamed. “Sign! I love you!”

Amazingly, Allen remained completely calm.

“You momma is going to be mad,” Allen said with a straight face.

“I love you! I love you! I love you!”

Allen signed the breast of the fan’s white polo shirt and cracked, “You can find the same thing at your local Wal-Mart.”

Made in China. Just like this night.

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