Knicks set for LeBron's only visit this season

BY foxsports • November 6, 2009

A little early to start the recruiting pitch, isn't it?

Actually, the parade is for the Yankees, but James won't mind. He's a huge fan of the World Series champions.

Besides, Broadway is all his after that.

"My parade starts at 8 o'clock tomorrow night," James said Thursday before Cleveland hosted Chicago.

The Cavaliers visit Madison Square Garden on Friday night, James' only chance this season to put on a show at the arena he adores.

Watch out Knicks.

"He'll be glowing. He'll be ready," said New York guard Larry Hughes, a former Cleveland teammate who keeps in touch with James. "He may not say he's ready, but he'll be ready to perform."

James seems to do something spectacular whenever he plays in New York. Last time it was a triple-double - for a couple of days, anyway.

He lost one of the rebounds after a video review but still scored 52 points, joining Michael Jordan as the only visiting players with multiple 50-point games at the present building.

This season's NBA schedule sends James to Madison Square Garden only once.

Knicks fans hope it's the last time he plays there as a visitor.

James can become a free agent on July 1 and the Knicks have cleared enough cap space to offer him a maximum salary contract. He's never said he wants to leave Cleveland, but he's never ruled out coming to New York, either, so his future will be hotly debated until then - especially Friday.

"There will be a lot of intensity," James said. "The fact that we only play there once, there's going to be a lot of energy to the see the team and see us and see me. July 1 is right around the corner so it's going to be really exciting."

Friday's itinerary figures to feature 48 minutes of basketball and at least as much talk about free agency. James can tempt the fans, torture the Knicks and tease the media. And as usual, everyone will hang on his every word, hoping he drops some hints about his plans.

"Guarantee you first time he comes here, if he goes down the corner and has a bagel and says that was good, headline's going to say, 'Hey, LeBron loves New York food,"' TNT studio host Ernie Johnson said last week.

Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and commissioner David Stern are among the NBA heavyweights who have said they hope James remains in Ohio, where he shot to stardom as an Akron schoolboy before turning the formerly losing franchise down the road into a powerhouse.

Others think he won't be able to resist New York, where he can make the Knicks relevant again on the court while making millions more off it in a much bigger market.

Kenny Smith agreed with Barkley, his TNT partner, that it would be nice to see James stay home. He isn't sure that will be the case, though.

"That's a great story, but obviously that story might not play out," Smith said. "If it was going to play out, I think it would have played out already. I think we would have known last year what's going on. I think he's really entertaining moving. He's not a sentimentalist like we are right now."

James could refuse to talk about it, but he seems to enjoy the flirtation, meeting the media before games in New York when many superstars prefer to wait in the restricted trainer's room during pregame availability. He always makes sure to leave New Yorkers hope, such as last season when he said, "You have to stay open-minded if you're a Knicks fan."

"I don't tease," James said Thursday. "I have never teased the New York media by saying I was coming to New York or playing for the Knicks. I say the same thing every time. When July 1 gets here, I'm going to approach it like a businessman and approach it the best way for LeBron and his family, but I've been a Cav for seven years now and I've never given any indication of leaving.

"For me to say I'm not going to be a Knick or I'm going to be a Cav, or I'm not going to be a Cav and be a Knick, I'm not going to say that right now because I did a three-year contract for a reason. I want to keep my options open."

Hughes said the Knicks get a kick out of the LeBron speculation, too.

"It could be anything. If we have a bad meal on the plane, 'Hey, meals would be better if 'Bron was here.' It's things like that," he said. "We have to have fun with it."

Friday is probably the hapless Knicks' most anticipated game of the season, their first nationally televised one at home since March 19, 2006. They risk being embarrassed in front of ESPN's audience if James is as good as he's been in recent visits.

He had 50 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in his last 2007-08 trip, then finished with 52 points and 11 assists in February. James scored only 26 in the first matchup last season, but that was only because he sat out the fourth quarter of a blowout.

James averages 30.1 points at the Garden, just slightly behind Kobe Bryant's 30.5 for most by an active player, according to STATS LLC.

"I don't want to be cute or flippant, but there's a lot of arenas that he goes into that he has big games," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "So we notice it because we're here, but I'm sure if you're in Sacramento, you go, 'Man, every time he comes in here he's killing us."'

And if James does it again Friday, Knicks fans will cheer him like he's one of their own.

They hope someday he will be.