|New York vs Cleveland|
|101 - 119|
And when New York guard Nate Robinson saw the producer had turned traitor and was wearing a pair of the special red "Big Apple" sneakers James was debuting for this game, he immediately began stepping on Lee's foot.
"Stop!" Lee said. "He's going to be your teammate."
That's what Knicks fans hope, anyway.
James' first visit to Madison Square Garden this season came just days after the Knicks made a pair of trades that freed up salary cap space for a potential run at the Cleveland Cavaliers ' superstar in the summer of 2010.
James scored 26 points in the Cavaliers' 119-101 victory. It had the pregame feel of the NBA finals - James' press conference of some 50 media members and more than a half-dozen TV cameras was comparable in size to those when Cleveland played San Antonio for the 2007 title.
And far away as it is, James understood the magnitude of his pending free agency, which could come the same day players such as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also become available.
"I think July 1, 2010, is a very big day," James said. "It's probably going to be one of the biggest days in free-agent history in the NBA. So a lot of teams are gearing up to try to prepare themselves to be able to put themselves in position to get one of the big free-agent market guys."
James is the biggest. And New York is the biggest stage available, so it would be a natural fit.
But James disagreed that leaving Cleveland is a necessary step to making him a bigger star and giving him a better chance to win championships.
"That's something that's not a factor," James said. "You look at someone like Tim Duncan for instance, who decided to sign short-term deals and decide to take pay cuts to stay in San Antonio to sign guys like Manu (Ginobili) and sign guys like Tony Parker and they won championships. And San Antonio we all know is not a big market at all.
"So for me it's all about winning. It's not about the market that you'd be in, it's all about winning with me and that's what this league has always been about."
So would he take less in Cleveland to help the Cavs bring in another superstar?
"I didn't say that," James joked. "I like the talent part, bringing the talent in, but I didn't say I was taking less."
NBA rules allow the Cavs to offer James a larger contract than any other team. But there has always been the belief that James would someday bolt his native Ohio to play in a bigger market.
New York is ready to welcome him. His picture has been in the local papers for days, and a large billboard featuring his likeness hangs over Seventh Avenue, just a block from the entrance to Madison Square Garden.
"We've got that same billboard in Cleveland. I say the same way I feel about it being there," teammate Daniel Gibson said after the game. "He's a hot commodity. He's the best player in the NBA. Of course guys want him on their team."
James loves the building, where he scored 50 points last March in his previous visit, citing its history of concerts and boxing besides just basketball. And he praised new Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, saying he enjoyed playing in his system when D'Antoni was an assistant with the U.S. Olympic team.
Throw in the multiple questions he was asked about the Yankees, his favorite baseball team - he thinks CC Sabathia would be an excellent replacement for the retiring Mike Mussina - and it's easy to see James in a Knicks uniform during the 2010-11 season.
But he's uncomfortable talking about the idea right now, especially with the Cavs off to a 11-3 start that's shown they're a contender to reach the finals again this season.
"I think right now, you know I just want to continue to just to focus on what I have at task now, being with the Cavs and us getting better every day to compete for an NBA championship," he said. "To bring that type of distraction to our team would be unfair to my team, my teammates, coaching staff and the rest of the organization."
But James, treated to a loud ovation during pregame introductions, is enjoying the attention. The Knicks are only one of perhaps a dozen or more teams gearing themselves up for a potential LeBron push in two summers.
"I am flattered (by) the rumors going around that they would love me to be part of their team. I can't sit up here and say I'm not flattered by that or like the fact that it's happening," he said. "But right now I'm with the Cavs. But to answer the question, yes. Every team hopes someday maybe to make a push at trying to get me in two years and we'll see what happens."