MIAMI -- For 53 minutes on Tuesday, the Heat and Spurs engaged in an all-time great basketball game, one that saw star performance after star performance and required an overtime period to settle. Despite ticket prices in the hundreds or thousands of dollars and the fact that it was Game 6 of the Finals, many fans in attendance at American Airlines Arena didn't bother to stick around until the game's dramatic conclusion.
A significant portion of the home crowd streamed for the exits as San Antonio held a five-point lead in the closing minutes of regulation. When LeBron James and Ray Allen hit back-to-back three-pointers to force overtime, where the Heat ultimately prevailed 103-100 to force a Game 7, a number of the fans unsuccessfully attempted to reenter the arena, according to reports.
The early exit from the fans wasn't the only late-game off-court point of contention. Many Heat players saw that preparations were being made for a trophy presentation to the Spurs, as security staff surrounded the court to create a celebration zone.
"I noticed it," James said, following what he called the "best game" he's been a part of during his 10-year career. "We saw the championship board already out there, the yellow tape. That's why you play the game to the final buzzer."
Dwyane Wade added: "That's why we love this game. It's unpredictable. Only thing you can do when everything looks dim and dark, you just have to keep going. When they brought that yellow rope and you know you're not the one that's going to celebrate, we kept fighting and believing. We played to the last minute, the last second."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that the crowd's early exit and the post-game security preparations didn't distract his team's focus during a tense endgame.
"Come on, at that time I don't think anybody noticed," Spoelstra said. "That's probably the best way to live in life is in the moment, and that will guarantee you're in the moment."
Outside the stadium, WPLG reporter Victor Oquendo provided a Twitter play-by-play as the fans who departed early realized what was happening back inside the stadium.
Fans streaming out...I'm gonna throw up. Honestly embarrassing. I'm setting up for my live shot outside the arena, just watching fan after fan exit early.
Now I'm watching horrible, drunk, quitting fans desperately trying to get back in. This is madness. None of them deserve to be let in. They are pounding the glass doors. Cops finally here. Fans still pounding on the doors begging to be let in.
I was born and raised in Miami. I used to hate the national perspective against Heat fans but I can't fight it anymore.
The Sun-Sentinel comes through with some on-scene details.
"I feel so bad. I thought it was over," said Marcella Tabora, who left the game early with her husband, Tyson and the couple's young daughter. "We have a long drive to West Palm Beach, so I said 'Let's go.' We were walking [outside] and he checked his phone and saw it was 95-95, so we came back. But they said we couldn't go back inside."
CBSSports.com interviewed an arena worker about what happened once the tide turned in the game's closing moments.
The scene was described to me by one arena worker as "crazy" and that hundreds of fans were pounding on the glass doors begging to be let back in. Police actually came over to stabilize the situation as some were getting quite upset, apparently.
One worker expressed actual worry and there was a little bit of fear because of the aggressiveness some were showing.
"They were saying, 'I just left! I just left! Please!'" an arena worker said. "They'd run up there, then they'd run back here trying different doors to see if they could get in."
Miami media personality Dan LeBatard also weighed in. "Mass exodus," he noted. "Gotta beat traffic, you know? So many people have left that I'm honestly embarrassed for this city."
“We are literally sitting in the crowd here,” Boyle said, in an audio file of the broadcast posted on Miami sports site PageQSports.com. “These losers are leaving. They are flocking to the exits with their team down by three. This city does not only not deserve this team, they don’t deserve any team.”
Those who left early will have a chance to make amends and potentially witness the Heat's second consecutive championship during Game 7 on Thursday night.Hat Tip: Ball Don't Lie