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At last, free agency starts for Dwyane Wade

MIAMI (AP) — For Dwyane Wade, the start of free agency was predictable.

He got courted by Pat Riley.

And so did a slew of other marquee free agents who have all found their way onto Miami's wish list.

The most awaited free-agent period in NBA history arrived when the clock struck 12:01 a.m. Thursday, and Riley, the Heat president, immediately sprang into action. Miami contacted Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and several other players, essentially inviting them all to meet with the Heat — who are loaded with salary-cap room.

"The best," former Heat star and current team executive Alonzo Mourning said hours earlier, "is yet to come."

Accompanied by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and minority owner Nick Arison, among others, Riley was in Los Angeles for the start of the frenzy. A meeting with Stoudemire was expected to be near the top of their itinerary, with Boozer and Mike Miller also believed to be welcoming teams in Los Angeles as well.

The Heat also contacted several of their own free agents, including Udonis Haslem.

"This is a rarity," Mourning said. "This doesn't happen, man, when you have this level of free agents available. There's a frenzy. ... So none of this surprises me at all."

Wade was in Chicago and expected to meet with the Bulls on Thursday as one of his earliest moves of the process. Wade will speak to the New York Knicks and other clubs sometime before the weekend, and isn't expected back in South Florida before the early part of next week.

Players can agree to deals with teams at any time, though nothing can be finalized until July 8 under league rules.

After seven seasons with Miami, Wade doesn't want to leave, yet says it's up to the Heat to put together a roster that will help him contend for more championships.

"They know what I want to see," Wade told The Associated Press in an interview last week. "I think everyone does."

In Miami on Wednesday, hundreds of people yelled for Wade at a rally, egged on by a fist-pumping, arm-waving Mourning.

Taking over the downstairs of a governmental office complex, well-wishers waved signs, wrote messages to Wade on an oversized card and donned T-shirts with the logo of Miami-Dade County — which, until July 8, has been renamed Miami-Wade County, even with the colors redone to match the Heat red and black scheme.

Hours later, the plane carrying Riley and the Heat contingent headed west to Los Angeles. It'll criss-cross back the other way Thursday, the Heat hoping to land a meeting with LeBron James, who's reportedly set to talk with the Knicks and Nets also on Day 1 of the mania.

It's unknown when Riley will meet with Chris Bosh, who over the weekend told the AP that he has high interest in Miami. Rudy Gay also is likely to meet with Miami sometime in the coming days, although his free-agent tour will begin in Minnesota on Thursday and will include multiple other clubs.

"You have some individuals who have increased their chances of getting there and winning it all," Mourning said. "It's a great opportunity for them to really dissect what's important in their lives."

Miami only has two players under contract for next season at this point, guard Mario Chalmers and forward Michael Beasley. They've been working out together at the Heat facility, neither having any idea who will be in the locker room with them when camp starts in about three months.

It's an odd situation, for sure.

"You don't know who's going to be here," Chalmers said. "So we just have to step our games up. For now, it's just me, Mike and D-Wade."

That is, if D-Wade stays put.

Mourning told the people at the Wade rally that the team expects the former NBA scoring champion to stay and is increasingly confident it will happen. That would mean Riley believes he can make the roster upgrades Wade wants, because without them, Wade said he would look elsewhere.

"Pat Riley is a company guy," Mourning said. "He's going to do what he can to make sure the organization is successful. I can't read Pat's mind, but in my 16 years of being around this man, I do know he's going to do everything remotely possible to bring a world championship back to this organization."

And like everyone else, Mourning said, Wade was ready to see free agent start — and end.

"Very much so," Mourning said. "Very, very much so."