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Sunday, October 9, 2011
The King's speech and more from 'Classic'

By Tom Haberstroh

David Stern
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
LeBron James gave a hearty thank you to the fans after Saturday's South Florida All-Star Classic.

MIAMI -- There was LeBron James.

The world's biggest basketball star stood inside a tight circle of the NBA's elite that had congregated at center court. LeBron grabbed a microphone and addressed an audience of 4,000 fans at Florida International University's U.S. Century Bank Arena who had just witnessed an enthralling, star-studded overtime exhibition game. Saturday marked the 100th day of a painful lockout, but the fans were there, 4,000 strong, on their feet, and listening intently to LeBron's words.

"Thank you. Thank you so much. We appreciate every last one of you," LeBron said.

As he spoke, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and the rest of  the stars in Saturday's South Florida All-Star Classic watched LeBron, nodding their heads and clapping during the King's speech.

In the distance, a fan wearing a Heat jersey held a poster over his head as LeBron uttered his final words to the crowd. The message on the poster read: "MR. STERN, CAN WE AGREE?"

The game, hosted by the Heat's Big Three, was spectacular. If there was ever a championship of pick-up exhibitions, this was it. Still, an inescapable feeling of dread lingered beneath all the rousing cheers and standing ovations. After all, this was probably the last game of NBA-caliber basketball these fans would see live for a very long time; negotiations between the league and the union had reached an impasse that would almost certainly kill the start of the 2011-12 NBA season.

So as the thousands of fans in attendance and hundreds of thousands of online viewers watched Team Wade nip Team LeBron 141-140 in overtime, there was a certain duel of emotions. In one moment -- like when Anthony drained a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation -- you couldn't help but think: "Wow, what a game!" But that feeling of exuberance was soon squashed by another thought: "Man, am I going to miss this, or what?"

Yes, the South Florida All-Star Classic was wildly entertaining. As expected, there was a fair share of jaw-dropping dunks, high-flying acrobatics and mind-bending showcases of talent. But every lockout pick-up game features those things. This one felt like something bigger was at stake. Perhaps it's because the players were fighting to keep the exasperated fans on their side.

Maybe LeBron told the fans what they wanted to hear, but it's also something they deserved to hear. The audience stood on their feet from the start of the fourth quarter until the overtime buzzer. Speaking for the players, LeBron told the fans something that the owners have yet to convey: You, the fans, matter.

It was quite the moment, but there were so many more. Here's some other scenes and notes from Saturday's extravaganza.