Hoop Kings


You know the scene from Titanic: Jack Dawson and Fabrizio on the boat’s bow, with Leo character’s declaring himself king of the world.

At Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, three longtime Knicks fans, ennobled by the plastic cups and the amber liquid they held in lieu of scepters, pontificated as if they were the kings of the basketball world, while watching the orange and blue give the Portland Trail Blazers a real tussle.

Naturally, the triumvirate’s conversation turned to basketball royalty: King James and what it would be like for His Majesty to lead the Knicks.

But before we got too giddy, one noble reminded what James and his courtiers did to Mike D’Antoni’s squad at MSG the week before: “They put the hammer down. They let LeBron know what it might be like to play for the Knicks," he declared. Indeed, Cleveland stormed MSG by 18 on Nov. 25, toying with the Knicks like so many peasants.

And the vanquishing was worse Dec. 3, as the Cavs defended their Q castle in Cleveland, where the only suspense — aside from whether James would escape unscathed from a flagrant foul by Al Harrington — was whether the home team would win by 40. Alas the Cavs fell short, easing past the Knicks by a mere 36.

After those thrashings, would LeBron The Illustrious really deign to grace the Knicks — who are clearing salary cap room to get in the game to sign this generation’s No. 23 – with his regal presence when he becomes a free agent in July 2010?  

Sure, His Highness has said all the right things about the hardwood sophisticates that populate the World’s Most Famous Arena and that New York’s the mecca of the basketball world. Of course, Madison Avenue awaits his Big Apple coronation.

Just a few problems the three of us determined as Portland rallied past our squadron. It’s been 35 years since Willis, Clyde, DeB, The Pearl and the Senator donned the NBA diadem…You have to win more than a few games over the next couple of seasons to entice His LeBroness to reign here…The 15-3 Cavs have assembled their best club around James in his quest to secure an NBA crown…The Larry Bird exemption under the current collective bargaining agreement enables the existing club to pay more gold, er green, than other suitors…And for The King, all the world, at least where Nike and Sprite — if not Microsoft — are concerned, is already a multimillion dollar stage.

And let’s be real, in the digital and cable age, MSG has lost some luster. When he’s not soaring nationally on ESPN, ABC, TNT or NBA TV, James can be summoned on pay-per-view or broadband via NBA League Pass. Of course, his Highlights and ads are ubiquitous.

Locally, his subjects are bearing witness. Fox Sports Ohio’s ratings elevated 105% for its first 11 Cavs’ games this season to a 6.7 household ratings average in the Cleveland DMA, No. 17 in the Nielsen kingdom.  New York’s the media capital of the world (perhaps for those journalists who still have jobs) and the top of the Nielsen realm, where the first 13 Knicks contests on MSG Network were up 10% to a 1.26 Apple average.

Having the game’s best player — since their halcyon days, the Knicks have only had top 10 NBA nobility twice with Patrick Ewing and Brooklyn’s own King, Bernard, before he injured his knee —  would certainly improve MSG’s nightly Nielsens.

But there are other problems, some of which probably have something to do with three guys doing their thinking on folding chairs that they imagined were thrones.

Despite new leadership under D’Antoni, who brought along his entertaining up-tempo style from Phoenix, and Bronx-born NBA vet Donnie Walsh as president, the Cablevision-owned club continues to muddle the Stephon Marbury mess. 

As in the coach never informed his boss he wasn’t going to play the $21.9 million guard at all…As in an organization that’s paid so many bad players to go home or elsewhere suddenly guarding the counting house and not biting on this bullet (maybe Plaxico can consult) of an onerous and un-tradable K…As in the Coney Island kid being suspended for not going into a game and stating his marriage with the Knicks was over…As in Starbury then saying he wanted back in with the family or to be released…As in management not exactly presenting a unified front during these embarrassing proceedings, leading to questions about whether they are really the right emissaries to court The King.

Please get on with this, as we royal observers like to jest: Dispatch post haste former Knicks intern Kathleen Decker, in a carriage, um SUV, with an eight-figure check to Marbury’s manse as to finally bid farewell to the guard’s sordid stay at the Garden, commissioned by Isaiah the Infamous.

Other proclamations from the kings, these by seal to Portland GM Kevin Pritchard: That Brandon Roy guy’s got game and Greg Oden’s going to experience a lot of growing pains before the team blazes to the top of the West in a couple of years.

So it was decreed at MSG.