MIAMI (AP) – Pat Riley’s right hand was bare as he walked onto the court Tuesday night, his 1987 Los Angeles Lakers championship ring put away for safekeeping.

Minutes later, he had a new favorite piece of jewelry.

The Miami Heat completed one last order of business before starting the defense of their NBA title, receiving their championship rings in an elaborate pregame ceremony before opening the new season against the Chicago Bulls.

The organization is giving out 415 rings to employees, Riley said, but the 15 players’ rings are obviously the most spectacular of the bunch.

A diamond-crusted “World” is across the top and “Champions” around the bottom, with a replica of the NBA championship trophy in the middle. On one side is each player’s last name, with the words “15 Strong” – the credo Riley came up last season – underneath, along with the phrase “Faith 2006.”

On the opposite side is the Heat logo, and there are white jewels in nearly every possible spot on the massive piece of jewelry.

“A lot of ice,” Heat guard and NBA finals MVP Dwyane Wade said, “is nice.”

NBA commissioner David Stern, who hands out championship rings each year, said he sees the jewelry getting bigger with each new season.

“I’m not sure they can get more bigger and more elaborate,” Stern said. “At some point, we hit the ceiling.”

Riley, owner Micky Arison and 10 other members of the team’s basketball operations and coaching staff received their rings first, before a video montage of highlights from the postseason was played.

For Riley, it was ring No. 7. For Arison, it was ring No. 1.

“It’s bigger. It’s nicer,” Riley said, when asked to compare the new ring to his others. “And I want to thank Micky for it.”

Once the staff rings were issued, amid fireworks and blasts of flame, it was time for players to finally get their first look at the prize.

Mourning pumped his fists high when he was introduced, as did Miami native Udonis Haslem. Neither could stop smiling – a rare sight for both on the court. Later, Wade accepted his as the crowd greeted him with an “M-V-P” chant.

Shaquille O’Neal somehow managed to keep a stoic expression on his face – that is, until he embraced Riley and saw the coach already was wearing his ring.

Then the Heat players pointed fingers skyward, as white streamers fell and the championship banner was raised to the ceiling.

“It’s more than a ring, because it took a lot of grinding, putting in hours in the weight room, tough times, everything all rolled into one,” Heat forward Dorell Wright said shortly before the ceremony. “We earned it. The season was up and down, but we earned it.”


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