Give Osi some credit


So Osi Umenyiora didn’t endear himself to Knicks fans with his advice to LeBron James to stay in Cleveland.

The Giants defensive end certainly may have cost himself a prime courtside seat at the Garden whenever he goes to his next Knicks game. And he may have blogged his way out of any shot of a cameo appearance in one of those star-studded I Love New York/I Love LeBron James recruitment DVDs that will potentially be sent to the Cavs star on July 1.

But one of the things I love about Osi is that when he’s not issuing up a “no comment” and trying to censor himself from getting in trouble like he did in March, the defensive end usually says exactly what he feels and thinks and is refreshingly honest. Too many athletes these days watch what they say as if they are counting every calorie they eat to stay in shape.

In this case, Umenyiora said how he felt and took an unpopular stance. For the record, I don’t agree with him since my stance is all about bringing basketball back to New York or New Jersey and that means doing whatever it takes to get LeBron. I’ve always felt the Knicks have a shot at landing LeBron and this was way before Game 5 and the Cavs’ collapse against Boston. Heck, I liked the Nets’ chances with James’ BFF, Jay-Z, leading the recruiting if the Brooklyn arena had been completed for the upcoming season.

In case many of you don’t know –- and I plan on writing an introductory blog next week –- I used to cover the NBA for nearly a decade for the New York Daily News. So before I covered football, I was entrenched in basketball with the Knicks and then the Nets.

I don't think that getting LeBron automatically guarantees the Knicks a title. But at least basketball will be back if he comes. I remember what it was like to have playoff basketball in this area and how the city was enthralled with the Knicks during their 1999 run to the NBA Finals with Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston.

I remember what it was like when Patrick Ewing used to go at it with Alonzo Mourning and what the Garden sounded like when L.J. made the unforgettable four-point play. It was also fun to see Jason Kidd throwing alley-oops to Kenyon Martin en route to two NBA Finals appearances. But basketball has been dead here for too long. The Garden and New York are starving for winning hoops to return.

So I understand how some Knicks fans must feel about Umenyiora’s comments but I won't come down on Umenyiora for saying what's on his mind. Besides, it's not like Umenyiora's advice is going to suddenly make or break James' decision or usurp the opinions of those that truly matter to James, who will be listening to his close confidants like Jay-Z.

Umenyiora warns James that playing in New York will not be like playing in Cleveland, where the love has been there since he was a kid growing up in Akron. While winning in New York is like nothing else, the criticism can be suffocating when things do not go well. Just ask Ewing.

But Umenyiora should understand that no matter where LeBron plays -- be it Chicago or Miami -- the criticism and pressure will always be there. Look at the heat James drew in Cleveland after that Game 5 fiasco in an Eastern Conference semifinal series. He wasn't even playing in the Conference Finals.

Yes, Osi is right – New York fans will come down hard on James if he comes and fails to deliver playoff wins let alone a title and deservedly so. Just like fans should boo Umenyiora if he doesn't perform this season. But should James win here, he will be loved unlike anywhere else in the world.

Umenyiora knows this is true. Because if he starts terrorizing quarterbacks, racking up the sacks and helping the Giants win again, he will be loved again. And everything he said about James will be long forgotten by New Yorkers.