MIAMI (AP) - Before leaving for the airport Monday and catching the flight to Boston, Dwyane Wade had a conversation with the friend he calls Larry.
As in, the Larry O'Brien Trophy. The one they give out for winning an NBA championship.
"I asked him where he's been," Wade said. "He's eluded me. He's been missing for a while."
Larry will be waiting for someone in June, and on Tuesday night the Miami Heat will take what they hope is their first steps toward winning him when a season of title expectations finally opens in Boston. Miami squares off against the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics in a matchup loaded with story lines.
LeBron James' opener with Miami after seven seasons in Cleveland. Wade's first time with James and Chris Bosh as his Heat running mates. Shaquille O'Neal - once a teammate to both Wade and James - playing his first game in Celtics' colors. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett motivated by a Game 7 loss to the Lakers in last season's finals. Miami's new Big 3 vs. Boston's not-so-new Big 3.
Oh, and the small fact that Wade and James were both ousted from the playoffs by Boston last spring, defeats that helped along their decision to play with one another.
"I think the NBA did an unbelievable job of picking a great first game," Wade said.
O'Neal says he believes it's just another game, noting that the only big games in which he's played in are the ones where "jewelry" - a ring - is up for grabs.
Not everyone is of that opinion.
"Once LeBron took his talents to South Beach, I think everyone got excited," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
The Heat practiced one last time in Miami on Monday morning, followed by coach Erik Spoelstra gathering his team in the locker room for a quick meeting.
He didn't have to say much. Spoelstra brought Miami's 2006 championship trophy and reminded everyone of the season's lone goal.
"We're all ready for this because of how long the summer has seemed," Spoelstra said. "Seemed like it's taken forever to get to this point. But it's finally here. And finally we can have most of the talk about the game and not all these other things which people are interested in right now, which is normal. But let's play."
James feels the same way.
By the time tip-off rolls around Tuesday night, 110 days will have passed since he made "The Decision" to leave Cleveland and join Wade and Bosh in Miami, and the NBA's two-time reigning MVP acknowledged Monday that South Florida still doesn't totally feel like home.
The team does, though. And after a summer of being a lightning rod for critics, James might be more eager than ever to play.
"I'll be ready tomorrow," James said when asked about his motivation level. "I'll be ready. I'll be ready."
His summer - and the fallout - was the theme for a Nike commercial released Monday, in which James is sitting on the set of the show in which he announced his decision and asked "What should I do?" He drives by the spot in Cleveland where the famous "We are all Witnesses" banner comes down, talks with Don Johnson while in Miami Vice-styled suits, even munches on a doughnut while taking a shot at Charles Barkley - one of the most outspoken who railed against James' decision, calling him "a punk."
"Should I be who you want me to be?" James asks to end the 90-second spot.
The Celtics know what the Heat did this summer is why this game was scheduled to open the NBA season. Commissioner David Stern won't be there; he'll be in Los Angeles handing the Lakers their championship rings three hours later.
Odds are, Stern will be watching. Like just about everyone else in the NBA world.
"All eyes will be on the game in Boston, but I think all eyes will really be on Miami," Rivers said. "We're the other team that's playing and we're just going to show up. But I'm sure everybody is there to see Miami."
Boston was a couple of plays away from winning their second championship in three years last June, ultimately losing Game 7 to the Lakers 83-79 - blowing a 13-point third-quarter lead in the process, and losing the seventh game of a finals for the first time in franchise history.
That title-winning window for Garnett, Pierce and Allen won't be open forever. That being said, they're still the East kings.
"There's never been an opening game that has been more heavily anticipated," Allen said. "I do believe that people are definitely excited to see them more than they're excited about seeing us. Truly they know, as a team, what we represented. The two teams are Eastern Conference powerhouses. It's going to be a game."
Neither team will be playoff-sharp, more than likely. James and Pierce both pointed out on Monday that it's the first game of a new season - and in Miami's case, a new era. That being said, Pierce pointed out that he's at least curious to see what Wade, James and Bosh will all look like in Heat colors together.
"Nobody has seen that type of talent on one team," Pierce said.
And there might a little bit of a "Hey, what about us?" factor going on Boston, after the Celtics won the 2008 title and nearly got another one four months ago.
"As far as the East, we're the champs," point guard Rajon Rondo said. "But that's in the past. New season. We're not going to go down without a fight."
Tuesday is just Round 1, but it has the ingredients to be a tantalizing open stanza.
"I think it'll be a very hostile environment," James said. "And us being the most hated team in the world right now, I think it'll be even more hostile."
AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen and AP freelance writer Mike Petraglia contributed from Waltham, Mass.