NEW YORK – LeBron James(notes) has forever been fascinated with New York, forever flirting with the bright lights and big city. He never did want to play for the Knicks, but he always honored Madison Square Garden with his most virtuoso of performances. James has tried to replicate the reverence that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant(notes) had for the gymnasium. From Isiah Thomas to Mike D'Antoni, James never found much defensive resistance. Mostly, LeBron James found a building begging him to come play here.
Perhaps because he now understands it still makes him the leading man in this saga, he's come to embrace the villain's role and his game has elevated with the hatred. He delivered sheer dominance with those step-back 3-pointers and behind-the-back passes whizzing through a tangle of bodies into the waiting hands of a Heat teammate.
James dangled the game on a yo-yo with his 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. And when it was over, James punctuated the performance in a way befitting his standing as a two-time defending MVP, in a way that Michael and Kobe had never considered. On his way out of basketball's mecca, LeBron James re-tweeted the praise of Justin Bieber.
"Beast!" Bieber exclaimed.
"Yes sir!" James demurred.
Yes sir, indeed.
The Garden sighed, Bieber swooned and King James marched out of the Garden with an 11th straight victory for the Heat. Everything's falling into place for him now. He's back to his routine of dominating the regular season, rolling gym to gym, party to party, with his underlings Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes).
As it turns out, the Heat were the perfect choice for James. It combines what he wanted (an unlimited party portfolio and a loaded lineup) with what he needed: an owner, GM and coach to stand up to his personal insurrection. Cleveland could never undo its enabling of him, and New York would've bent the franchise too far. Chicago would've been interesting, but Derrick Rose(notes) never wanted to play with him, making an unholy and unhappy alliance.
No, the Heat are perfect. James needed structure, and Pat Riley has given him parameters with which he needs to fit. He tried to fire a coach demanding discipline out of him, and it didn't work. This has allowed the Heat to push through the uneasy and uneven first few weeks of the season and allowed them to find a balance where James, Wade and Bosh could flourish together.
Perhaps Riley doesn't love that James has let his marketing geniuses use the MVP's likeness to sell "sponsorships" for parties on South Beach and across the NBA travel schedule. Of course, they don't have to twist James' arm. Before the two games with the New Orleans Hornets this season, James and Chris Paul(notes) co-hosted parties on Bourbon Street and South Beach. Once, Paul had such big national endorsements with big national products. And now he has "Rich Paul Productions" – one of LeBron's Akron acolytes – spitting out posters for the party like the ones Turtle left on car windshields for Vince in "Entourage."
Whatever disdain some of the public has for James, it isn't shared among most of the NBA's young stars. James has 11 "LeBron James Dinner Party Tour Dates" on tap over the next several months, from New York to Chicago, Atlanta to Los Angeles. He gets to town, and they're hitting the town to make a few dollars off the lure of King James. They've got a South Florida company selling "sponsorships" to the parties, which is essentially treating the NBA's MVP like a hotel lobby ATM machine.
What's more, there's a big LeBron James' 26th birthday party on South Beach on Dec. 30, and James' marketing arm insists the event is "royal themed fitting for a birthday celebration of a king, channeling an ambiance of extravagant court life."
So there was Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) photographed in the Friday morning papers at one of James' New York shindigs on Thursday night. Stoudemire did show up to James' party at the 10ak, but kept his distance the entire evening, the New York Post reported. Did he soften up Stoudemire? Did he keep him out too late? No, but it's still surprising a Knicks star would walk into a party where the words "LeBron James" were plastered in balloons on two separate walls.
For all the talk about the long-planned James, Wade and Bosh coup on South Beach, James had been texting Stoudemire about joining him in Miami as late as the NBA Finals in June, one league source said. The Lakers and Celtics don't want to be James' buddy, but everyone else does. LeBron throws some mean parties, and the AAU NBA loves him for it.
Whatever. LeBron James is playing brilliant basketball, and the Heat are beating up on the NBA's middle class, with the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Mavericks as the true tests awaiting them. All of the Akron acolytes were waiting for James outside the locker room on Friday night, and they were so pleased with him. Big party in the city, big show in the Garden. This is the rock tour that they always imagined together, and they're living large on triple-doubles and blowout victories.
And who knows, maybe they'll get to soften up Kevin Garnett(notes) between Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference finals by letting him a buy sponsorship to hang with LBJ. James had showed such reverence for the Garden, lit up the Knicks, and the game's biggest stage with an uncommon greatness.
The Garden groaned on Friday night, with King James channeling Jordan and Bryant and all the greats who treated this mecca like a treasure. And, hey, there's the big birthday bash on Dec. 30 in South Beach and the post-New Year's Dinner Party Tour Date in rockin' downtown Charlotte on Jan. 2.
As long as the Heat are winning, no one will care. LeBron James can go all day, all night and no one can stop him in the regular season. What a night at the Garden: the bright lights, big city and the NBA's AAU MVP punctuating those dazzling 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists with a declaration to all the greats who had come before him: Yes sir, Bieber believes the King is a beast.