FORT LAUDERDALE — First came Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham shuffling down the runway like he needed a walker. He nearly slipped in the rain, then caught himself, showing the great ones never lose it.
Then co-owner Jorge Mas stopping halfway down the runway, same as everyone. No one evidently dared going the full, wet distance to the midfield stage Sunday night, set up to introduce international soccer superstar Lionel Messi as a member of Inter Miami CF.
“Tonight we’re doing this Miami-style in the rain,’’ Mas said. “This is holy water!”
The nearly full crowd at DVR PNK Stadium cheered and chanted, “Messi!” A couple of hours earlier they might have preferred what the team named “The Unveil” to be of Noah’s Ark for all the rain and lightning. But maybe Messi slowed the monsoon to a mere drizzle to allow the moment the soccer world awaited to arrive.
“Your No. 10 … Inter Miami’s No. 10. .. America’ s No .1 … The best No. 10 in the world,’’ Mas said by way of introduction.
Messi then appeared on the runway in jeans and a No. 10 T-shirt while holding his pink Inter Miami jersey aloft. He waved to the crowd, hugged Beckham and Mas, took the microphone and said, “Thank you very much. Good evening. First of all, I want to thank all of the people of Miami for this welcome …”
He then talked of winning championships, plural, “Not one, not two, not three, not four …”
Oh, wait. Wrong unveiling.
Messi-palooza wasn’t anything like LeBron James and The Big Three arriving to the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010. There was no giddy bravado or over-the-top comments. Messi talked two minutes, tops. There was no give-and-take, no laughter, nothing to offer fans a glimpse into his thoughts in coming here.
He’s the biggest soccer player in the world, not the most quotable. A scheduled news conference with him for Monday was canceled. But he’s scheduled to make his Inter Miami debut on Friday night. That’s what matters for the greatest signing in American soccer history.
Soccer’s best friend isn’t the future anymore. It’s the present, and South Florida has the front-row seat. One curiosity is how Messi will go from playing on the world’s biggest stage against elite competition to an MLS stage and competition decidedly less.
Another curiosity: Can he turn around a team that hasn’t won in 11 straight games and sits at the bottom of the league in a manner to make the playoffs?
Messi spoke briefly in Spanish of wanting to “start training,” and said, “I’m am very happy to have chosen this city with my family,” and how, “I have no doubt we are going to have a good time in Miami.”
(Quick aside: Has anyone told Messi he’s not really playing in Miami? Not that it matters much. The geographical lines have been blurred in the sports world ever since LeBron said upon joining the Miami Heat, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”
(So it’s no big deal when Beckham kept talking of Miami. Or Mas talked of, “Miami style.” Or the other great talent, Sergio Busquets, when introduced with his No. 5 jersey before Messi, said, “Hello everyone. I am very happy to be here in Miami.”
(And Fort Lauderdale commissioners are happy to have you.)
The night ended with Messi kicking the soccer ball around the field with his children as a concert went on the stage in the stadium. The concert was planned to be the lead-up to “The Unveil,” but the singers would have had to wear mask and snorkel while performing.
So there were some audibles called, some weather taken on. But Messi was unveiled in a quick and painless introduction — thankfully painless on that wet run way. He’s here. He’s ready to play. It was baptism by holy soccer water Sunday, and no doubt more surprise is ahead.