On Monday night at Madison Square Garden, LeBron James torched the Knicks. It wasn’t the typical superstar beatdown at MSG – James finished with “only” 23 points – but he handed out 12 assists, hit the game’s biggest shot and locked down Kristaps Porzingis defensively as the Cavaliers came back from a 15-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.
Seemingly every NBA superstar has dominated the Knicks at the Garden. Kobe Bryant (61 points) and Michael Jordan (playoffs, year after year) did so many times. Steph Curry made a huge blip onto the national radar there in 2013 with a 54-spot on national television. James himself has dropped 52 and 50, respectively, in two trips there earlier in his career.
It’s an NBA tradition. When the Knicks are relevant, the Garden is the grandest stage in sports.
James seems to revel in the spotlight. Fueled by a scuffle with boisterous Knicks center Enes Kanter, he took control Monday and rubbed the victory in Tuesday morning, calling himself the “king of NY” on Instagram. In that same caption, he also called MSG “his favorite playground.”
Why not settle there for good, then?
James remains quiet on the topic publicly, but it’s the NBA’s worst-kept rumor that he is considering an exit from Cleveland this summer. The team most commonly linked in these rumors is the Los Angeles Lakers, who have done their part to fuel the fire by paying premium prices to dump bad contracts. There is now cap space in L.A. for multiple stars.
The Lakers, as the story goes, represent the big-market utopia that James needs to prepare for his post-basketball career. James wants to dip his toes in Hollywood, and play with great players, whether they are rostered by the Lakers now or signed in free agency. Lonzo Ball has already received James’ public praise, and Paul George’s name has been linked to the purple-and-gold for years now.
Ball will almost certainly be a fine player, and George is more than fine already. Neither of them have futures as promising as Porzingis’. The 7-foot-3 power forward is averaging 29.5 points per game so far in his third season while also providing 3-point range and terrifying rim protection.
No one expected the big Latvian to develop this quickly. He was called a project, repeatedly, as ruthless Knicks fans booed his name at the 2015 NBA Draft. Those fans, as they often are, were wrong, but they’re in love now. Porzingis has been one of the very best players in the NBA this season and, with only a little bit of help, he’s dragged the Knicks into the early playoff picture.
If James is looking for a big market and superstar help, then the Knicks are a worthy candidate, and, in addition to Porzingis, they hold some advantages over the Lakers’ situation.
First, James would instantly become the co-savior of the basketball capital of the world. Nothing in Los Angeles could compare to the adulation he will receive in Manhattan.
Second, he could stay away from the Golden State Warriors until the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics are certainly a worthy competitor that would definitely block his path in the East, but Golden State is a different beast.
Third, and we’re coming full circle here, he could play at the Garden every game. That way, he could truly be the king of New York, and not just by paying lip service as Kendrick Lamar did on Big Sean’s “Control.”
The Lakers hold one advantage the Knicks simply could not match, and that is the presence of Hollywood. James has big plans to “become a global entertainment icon,” as Pablo S. Torre called his vision in a February story for ESPN. Los Angeles has the clear geographic advantage in this race.
But if LeBron is hell-bent on crushing the spirit of Cleveland again and fleeing home, and he’s willing to waive some of the importance of the Hollywood factor in his decision, then maybe he should pick the Knicks. Ride with Porzingis, ride in the East and ride the spirit of the Garden.
And if he wants to be the king of New York but move at a different pace, then luckily the city has another NBA franchise that could use a savior too.