San Juan – A festive air prevailed in Puerto Rico on Monday morning after Jose Juan "JJ" Barea managed to become the second basketball player from the island to be on an NBA championship team, after the Dallas Mavericks' 105-95 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the best-of-seven final.
Barea and Butch Lee are the only Puerto Rican players ever to win an NBA title.
JJ - who was born, grew up and started playing sports in Puerto Rico - played in important role in the title run.
The change, which made Barea the first Puerto Rican ever to start in a final NBA game, helped Dallas achieve three consecutive victories and win the series 4-2 against the Heat, headed by superstars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
Puerto Ricans' pride was further pumped when after the final game, Barea went up on the stage where NBA Commissioner David Stern presented Dallas with the championship trophy and wrapped himself in the Puerto Rican flag.
The entire championship series between Miami and Dallas was followed passionately in Puerto Rico both due to its sports significance and to the great interest surrounding Barea and his romantic relationship with former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera, who attended several of the Mavericks' games.
San Juan dailies El Nuevo Dia and Primera Hora on Monday put a photo on their front pages of Barea embracing the trophy wrapped in the U.S. commonwealth's flag.
Barea, besides being the only Latino playing in the NBA finals, also demonstrated that his 5-foot-9-inch stature was not an impediment both by driving in to the basket among much taller opponents and sinking long-distance shots.
Entertainers Ricky Martin, Residente, Luis Fonsi, Ednita Nazario and Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño congratulated Barea for his contribution during the finals.
"We feel proud of JJ Barea; his development as an athlete is an example of effort, perseverance and heart for our youth," Fortuño said.
Barea, who was the flagbearer for the Puerto Rican contingent participating in the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games in his hometown of Mayaguez, on Monday traveled with the Mavericks to Dallas to participate in the welcoming ceremony being staged for them.
Although it is not known when Barea will return to Puerto Rico, nevertheless thousands of people are waiting at the Luis Muñoz Marin airport in San Juan to welcome him. He is expected to be taken to the capital's Casa Olimpica after his arrival, where he will be honored as the island's new sports hero.
The athlete intends to negotiate a new contract with Dallas for next season.
While Barea is negotiating with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to continue playing for Dallas, the player has already confirmed that he wants to represent Puerto Rico in the next Pre-Olympic Tournament, which will be held Aug. 30-Sept. 11 in Mar del Plata, Argentina.