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LeBron James in attendance for Lionel Messi's amazing Inter Miami debut

The Lakers superstar, former athlete Serena Williams and music legend Gloria Estefan among those to attend Friday's game.

LeBron James and Lionel Messi share an embrace prior to the start of Friday’s game.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lionel Messi made an unforgettable debut for Inter Miami.

The game’s greatest player — a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner — scored on a free kick from about 25 yards in the 94th minute, giving Inter Miami a 2-1 win over Mexican club Cruz Azul on Friday night in the Leagues Cup.

His left foot sent the ball over a wall of four Cruz Azul defenders and into the upper left corner of the net, unquestionably the greatest moment in Inter Miami’s brief history. Play resumed for roughly a minute before the referee’s whistle blew, and fireworks shot into the night sky.

Welcome, Leo. He waved at fans while he was seated on the bench. Waved at them while he was warming up. Waved at them while he was actually in the game.

And if that wasn’t enough, he saved his best moment for the end. He watched the ball sail into the net, something he’s done about 800 times before for club and country, then sprinted to the right corner of the field and leaped into the arms of teammates.

Messi checked in early in the second half with Inter Miami leading 1-0. He hugged the player he was replacing, midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi, then trotted onto the field as the estimated crowd of 21,000 all seemed to be standing, almost all of them with phones out to chronicle the moment.

He got a hug and shared a few words with LeBron James — another guy who knows a thing or two about making a highly celebrated move to Miami, after he joined the Heat in 2010 and won his first two NBA titles in a four-year stay — on his way to the bench. Messi took his seat and watched his new team, in the all-pink jersey, shorts and socks, start his new era.


It was a gathering of GOATs at Messi’s debut match: James and Serena Williams were there — like Messi in soccer, they’re in the conversation of “greatest of all time” when it comes to the NBA and tennis. Music legends Gloria and Emilio Estefan showed up, as did Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.