Commentary

Big Apple Fans: Bring on LeBron!

Knicks followers believe James would deliver a title like Messier did for the Rangers

Updated: May 14, 2010, 6:00 PM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

LeBron James didn't say much about his pending free agency after the Cleveland Cavaliers' season-ending loss on Thursday night.

But New York Knicks fans had plenty to say about it Friday morning.

ESPNNewYork.com hit the streets of Gotham early Friday to take the pulse of the Knicks fan with James set to officially become a free agent in 47 days.

We found that most hoops fans hustling out of Penn Station weren't worried about their 9 a.m. meetings. The bigger issue on their minds: Will LeBron land in New York?

"We need him," Brian Paul of Queens said outside Madison Square Garden. "All of New York is asking for him. Every corner, every block you go to, they say 'We need LeBron James.' He has to come here!"

Still, most Knicks fans we talked to Friday thought there was little chance that King James would come to town.

[+] EnlargeNew York Knicks
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesNew York fans are ready to show LeBron James some love. They just need him to love them back.

You can't blame them. Rooting for a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2001 and hasn't won a playoff series in a decade will bring out the pessimist in anyone.

"I would love it be 100 percent, but in all honesty, it's probably closer to 25 percent," said Andrew, a 23-year-old investment banker from Manhattan who declined to give his last name. "If he's smart he comes here and if he's dumb he stays in Cleveland or some stupid place like that. Financially, if he really wants to do big things, he's going to have to come here."

Guka Evans, 40, a lifelong Knicks fan from the East Village, thinks James will dismiss the Knicks based on their poor supporting cast.

"If he leaves Cleveland, it's because he wants to win a championship," Evans said. "And New York is in such bad shape talent-wise, why would he do it?"

If Danilo Gallinari and Mike D'Antoni don't draw James, Mike Shields, a 53-year-old crane operator from Queens, thinks the Knicks' money and the lure of the Big Apple will.

"He's got to ask himself, how much does he want?" Shields said. "God only knows how much is going to make him happy. I would love to see him in a Knick uniform, I know that much."

Ian Morgan believes the Cleveland versus Manhattan debate is a no-brainer, a slam dunk win for the Knicks.

"He's coming for two reasons: for marketing and because this is the Mecca of the world," said Morgan, a 42-year-old health care worker from the Bronx. "There's no money to be made in Cleveland, in the boondocks out there. If you want to make money, you come to New York."

Rob Paperman, a 35-year-old union sign hanger from Bellport, wasn't talking about the money when discussing James' free agency. He thinks James could potentially make a Mark Messier-like impact on Manhattan, sealing his legacy as an NBA legend, if he wins with the Knicks.

"Getting him would be like getting Messier back," Paperman said. "That's the way I see it. He'd have the chance to bring a team that's been in the dumps back; then you become a legend. If you win in New York, you're the most loved guy ever, forget about it."

Putting up with all of the Knicks' losses the past several years, the awful free-agent signings and the scandal-scarred Isiah Thomas era, has Devon Shapiro, a 23-year-old Indiana University grad, dreaming about James in orange and blue. He believes James will be a 6-foot-8 savior for the Knicks. Listening to all of the speculation, conjecture and guessing games over James' future for two years now, Shapiro's ready for the King to make a decision.

"It's in 47 days, you have to be excited," Shapiro said outside the Garden. "He's everyone's free agent now. If we get him, I'll be the happiest person in the world. And we'll be back."

Ian Begley is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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