MIAMI – LeBron James will take his talents to a different beach when the Miami Heat open camp.
He'll get to South Beach eventually. But first — Fort Walton Beach.
The Miami Heat announced Wednesday night that they'll hold their first camp with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida's Panhandle from Sept. 28 to Oct. 3. Miami has typically held training camp at its home arena, but in an effort to limit distractions going into this much-hyped season, the Heat wanted a different locale.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wanted the camp there after getting presented with the idea by team trainer Jay Sabol. Once military officials agreed, the deal was struck.
"This is a terrific opportunity for our team," Spoelstra said. "The base will provide the ideal setting for us to focus on basketball and building camaraderie with limited distractions. It also presents us a unique and fantastic opportunity to spend time with the Airmen who defend our freedom. I anticipate our team and each of us individually will benefit tremendously from being around this environment."
Eglin officials said Wednesday night they could not recall another professional sports team holding part of its training camp at the base, which is about 650 miles away from Miami. Practices will take place at Hurlburt Field's Aderholt Gymnasium. The Heat said they would be involved in several other on-base events.
"We at Hurlburt Field have a proud tradition of excellence, sacrifice and commitment. Our world-class Airmen and facilities guarantee we can answer the call — any time, any place," said Col. Michael Plehn, 1st Special Operations Wing commander. "We know the Miami Heat share this same commitment to excellence. This is why we're pleased to support their request to use our facilities."
James famously said he would "take my talents to South Beach" when announcing his decision to join the Heat on July 8, and there will be plenty of time for that to happen. The Heat will return to South Florida two days before opening the preseason at home against Detroit on Oct. 5.
"The Miami Heat is extremely humbled to train in an environment where service, sacrifice and discipline are the norm," Heat president Pat Riley said. "We know our players will appreciate being immersed in that kind of environment, and supporting the men and women who defend our freedom everyday."
The Heat have many ties to military efforts, including their "HomeStrong" initiative where soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are honored before every home game. Riley also has arranged Christmas parties for soldiers and their families in recent years, and former Heat first-round draft pick Tim James joined the U.S. Army in 2008 and was sent to Iraq shortly thereafter.
The Heat plan to practice twice daily during camp, although that's subject to change.