John Starks predicted Knicks fans' reception for LeBron James was "not going to be pretty.”
Indeed, the Madison Square Garden mood was vociferous Friday night. Thundering boos the first few times James touched the ball. Catcalls. Hand gestures. Children holding "LeBum" signs. Taunts.
But after years of the Knicks praying for James and then having him choose the Heat instead, is this something more than run-of-the-mill sports hatred? You might think so, seeing the crowd's frenzy. But talk to Knicks fans one-on-one, and it's hard to find real anger.
"No, I can't hate LeBron," says Knicks fan Harold, from West Orange, N.J., who, speaking at halftime, wished Knicks fans wouldn't boo so much. "Every time they boo him, he scores. We need to stop booing him."
So, if it's not hate, what's all the emotion about? "I think every New Yorker wanted LeBron to come here," Harold says. "Including me. It's not personal, except for the fact that we wanted LeBron in a Knick jersey."
Martin from Manhattan isn't as generous. "He made a parade of himself," he says, holding an enormous foam Knicks finger. "He spent a month making people crazy. He's just not a good person. I think he has no courage. I respect him as a basketball player, but I don't like him as a person."
What if James had come to the Knicks? "I'd root for him," Martin says. "But he had that hourlong special ... so, yeah, I booed him. But he doesn't owe us anything. We didn't get dumped. Cleveland got dumped. I've got no problems. I love Amare Stoudemire."
"LeBron's incredible," says Terrence from Queens, who is big fan of New York but has also been following the Nets since the days of Julius Erving. James snubbed both teams. "It's not that he didn't come to the Knicks or the Nets. It's that he should have stayed in Cleveland. Even if they win a couple championships, he's going to be remembered as the guy who went to the other guy's team. Larry Bird stayed in Boston. Magic Johnson stayed in L.A. Kobe Bryant stayed in L.A. All these great players stayed. He'll be remembered as the guy who cut and run. Yeah, I was booing him."
"I don't hate him," says Tony from Mt. Vernon. "I didn't boo him. I think it's a mistake. Don't give him no motivation. I wish he'd have come here, but I'm not going to hate on his decision. I'm not a fan, either, but I'm not going to boo a man for making a decision."