By CHRIS PERKINS
FOXSportsFlorida.com Heat Writer
They want to hate LeBron James. Really, they do, those New York Knicks fans. But James, who selected the Heat over the Knicks in free agency, isn't cooperating the way he did during the summer, when his actions made hostility easy.
James is back to being likeable nowadays. Don't discount the role of the Heat's ten-game winning streak in that changing perception. Winning cures all. But along with winning, James is playing well (23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game) and being well-behaved.
After a rough start, which included that highly-publicized shoulder bump with coach Erik Spoelstra in Dallas, James is saying the right things, acting the right way and playing the right way. He's not scowling any more. He's smiling, loose and relaxed. The smile, combined with winning, make it tough for fans to maintain that outrageous level of summertime dislike.
Nevertheless, James, who used to be cheered in New York, will get booed tonight when the Heat makes its first visit to Madison Square Garden.
"Does that mean they didn't love me really?" James asked in mock surprise.
In this case it might mean they still have love for James. The boos he hears tonight won't be borne of resentment and ridicule the way they were in Cleveland. They'll be obligatory boos James always gets on the road, the boos that all good players get in visiting arenas, the ones borne of respect. And even if there is a smattering of hatred tonight, James won't be fazed.
"It can't be worse than when we went to Cleveland," he said.
No matter how many times James explains his choice to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and form a Big Three in Miami, there will be those that choose to be upset. But the majority of the people now understand James' motivation. However, just for the record, he explained himself again Wednesday when questioned by members of the New York media who asked why New York didn't appeal to him.
"Winning appeals to me and it's all about winning," James said. "I'm not about saving franchises or saving this or that. It's about me winning. That's what I said all over the summer. When I decided to come here I felt it was my best possible chance to win. That's why I'm here."
Fans nationwide are starting to believe that in great numbers now. Again, the nine-game winning streak helps reinforce that notion; success makes the logic behind James' decision to join Wade and Bosh much more understandable. And most likely success, coupled with continued good behavior, will make it tough for fans to dislike James.