Wade and James eager to take on the Knicks
It's the scene the Knicks tried to turn into their reality this summer: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade together at Madison Square Garden.
Here it comes.
Alas, it'll be a one-night-only gig. And James and Wade will be arriving at the Garden as guests. Unwelcome guests, at that.
When the Miami Heat head to New York and face the Knicks on Friday night, it'll essentially summarize how the wild free-agent period last summer played out. The Knicks coveted James and Wade; they teamed in Miami with Chris Bosh. Amare Stoudemire was considered by some to be New York's fallback choice during its offseason shopping spree; he's playing like an MVP-in-waiting for the resurgent Knicks, who are putting together their best basketball in a decade.
It'll be there, thicker and tougher than a sidewalk vendor's pretzel. And maybe that simmering Heat-Knicks rivalry will rekindle, too.
''It'll be a great environment, one of those games that you love to play in, those moments that you look forward to,'' Wade said. ''And when Friday comes I think we'll all be excited.''
For the Heat, what's looming Friday night is nothing new.
They opened the season before a raucous crowd in Boston, then had the venomous reaction in Cleveland two weeks ago by fans who had waited months to let James know - loudly and none-too-politely - what they thought of his decision to join the Heat. Knicks fans traditionally aren't shy about letting opponents know their thoughts either, which means Wade and James will be targets again.
By now, the Heat are finding that to be almost commonplace.
''We're public enemy No. 1 virtually everywhere we go,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Knicks met with James on July 1, the day the free-agent shopping window opened, and at least one other time before the NBA's two-time reigning MVP decided on joining Miami.
So wanted was James in New York that one of the city's newspapers, the Daily News, hosted its own all-things-free-agency website - GetLeBron.com. But in recent days, the sense in New York has been decidedly different - ''Who Needs LeBron?'' is the question asked in the papers now.
As he has for months, James says he strongly considered all six of the teams he met with in July, the Knicks included.
''It wasn't the fact that it wasn't the right fit for me,'' James said. ''I just thought Miami was the best fit for me. And that's why I'm here.''
The Knicks wooed James with everything they had: the bright lights of Manhattan, the proximity to his beloved Yankees, how his earning potential as a pitchman could be maximized by calling New York home. And many touted him as a potential savior of a Knicks franchise that has gone nearly four decades without an NBA title.
It wasn't enough for the Big Apple to net the biggest prize during Free Agency 2010.
''Winning appeals to me,'' James said. ''And it's all about winning. I'm not about saving franchises or saving this or that. It's about me winning and that's what I said all over the summer when I decided to come here, I felt like this was my best possible chance to win. So that's why I'm here.''
The Knicks were farther down Wade's list during the summer.
He went into free agency with two clear choices, either the Bulls, his hometown Chicago team, or the Heat. Had James or Bosh made different decisions, Wade's view could have changed as well.
He's had big Garden moments before. He'd like another one on Friday.
''Besides the Cleveland game in Cleveland, I think this would be one of the biggest games of the year when it comes to atmosphere, when it comes to participation from the city of New York,'' Wade said. ''We look forward to playing on that stage.''
Oddly, this Heat-Knicks game will come nearly 15 years to the day after the rivalry between the teams truly began.
Dec. 19, 1995. That was the day Pat Riley - now the Heat president - returned to Madison Square Garden as coach, not long after resigning from the Knicks and taking over in Miami. He waved his arms at the crowd that night, egging them on and urging them to boo him as much as they could.
''Everyone looks for rivalries,'' Wade said. ''It's a great story line. It's great for the game. The Heat-Knicks will always be one. And right now with both teams playing well off of this summer, with them getting Amare and all three of us coming here, the fans are going to make it a very big game.''
There's another element of this little get-together, too. If the Knicks hadn't gotten Stoudemire, Bosh very well could be New York's starting power forward right now.
Stoudemire was one of the first free agents to make his mind up after July 1, and in some respects, him choosing New York had a domino effect across the league - including Miami.
''I was just looking at the situation for me,'' Bosh said. ''Of course you're aware of what other players are doing and what they're thinking because it's always on the TV, it was always on the TV every day at that point. But with us playing the same positions, I knew it was either him somewhere or me somewhere. And I just wanted to be in the best situation possible. And I'm a lucky guy. I'm here now.''
Wade and James have had their share of luck in New York.
Wade is 6-3 when the Heat visit the Knicks, averaging 26.6 points per game in those matchups. James is 7-4 as a visitor to New York so far in his career, averaging 30.4 points and reaching 50 in two of his last four trips to the Garden.
It's a special place for both of them.
It just wasn't special enough to call home.
''As a fan and as a player, that's the one building in America that you would love to play that before your career is over,'' James said. ''I'm blessed that I've been part of the NBA and getting an opportunity to play there at least once a year.''