NEW YORK -- It’s not my job to tell people what to do. If you pay money to go to a sporting event, you can boo. You can express yourself any way you want, as long as it’s legal and within some loosely defined notion of decorum.
I’m not telling you that you can’t boo LeBron James in your city. I’m merely wondering when the boos will stop.
Shouldn’t they stop at some point?
When will it sink in that LeBron -- a child in a man’s body who has nothing to do with your daily lives other than his entertainment value -- is playing in Miami now, and that’s the end of that?
Expressing outrage, of course, is half the fun of watching sports. Unless you live in Cleveland, where LeBron leaving after seven years was a life-and-death experience. On Dec. 2, when LeBron went home to the city he left in his dust, 20,000 fans had their chance to vent. On Friday night at Madison Square Garden, a place that LeBron could’ve owned on a nightly basis instead of just once or twice a year, they let him have it again.
They let Chris Bosh have it, too -- comically, and in a way that made him no longer neglected by the white-hot nexus of hatred focused on James every night in every city. Dwyane Wade? They left him alone, even though he was the architect behind this holy trinity of basketball talent forming back in July. None of it worked. The Heat dismantled the Knicks 113-91, a reality check clearly illustrating that the electricity that filled the Garden this week is a bit ahead of the product.
“Every night I go into a building, they boo me in certain cities,” James said, before quickly rethinking that assessment. “They boo me in every city, honestly, besides Miami, because they appreciate the way I play the game of basketball.”
No, he’s wrong about that. The Garden used to embrace James, but for different reasons than it buzzed for Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. The fans loved to hate them because of their pure talent and dagger-throwing fingertips. LeBron? New York loved him for one reason, and one reason only: They thought he’d come here one day, and not for a road trip.
James dismissed the notion Friday night that he was afraid of the challenge in New York -- coming to the biggest market and taking all the pressure of resurrecting a franchise on his shoulders, which is what Amar’e Stoudemire has done. And watching James play here in another jersey -- another visiting jersey -- should have put that notion to rest.
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"There’s not a spotlight I can’t handle,” James said. “There’s not a situation I can't handle."
So true, especially at the Garden. James had 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, putting on a brilliant show in the third quarter with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting -- each high-arcing jumper more acrobatic than the last. It was Miami’s 11th straight victory -- all but one coming by double digits -- and the first time this season that each member of Miami’s Big Three scored more than 25 points.
But it was all about LeBron. Always is and always will be, no matter how star-studded his supporting cast and no matter how big the stage.
The Garden was buzzing right from the opening tip, with more basketball life than the place has seen in years. Basketball was part of the cadence of the city again Friday, a topic of sports-radio and office small talk instead of what sixth starter or fourth outfielder the Yankees might sign. James, who could’ve elevated the electricity to a level never seen before, seemed pleased -- but not regretful.
"It’s great to see the fans here," he said. "They’re back. They’re loving the game of basketball once again, and it’s great for the NBA."
The question in Cleveland a couple of weeks ago was, “Why did you leave?” The questions here were, “Why didn’t you come?” As Wade sat in silence while James did all the talking in the postgame news conference, you got the feeling Wade must have been wondering why nobody cared that he didn’t sign with the Knicks.
Me? I’m wondering when this stuff stops. When will everyone just accept the fact that LeBron is in Miami, Stoudemire is in New York, the Celtics are the Celtics, and the Lakers have Kobe -- and move on?