James finished with 19 points, but that number was incidental. A more fitting number to calculate what he meant to last night's game is 18,624, the number of patrons who ventured out on a night that Bud Grant wouldn't even like and made it to the FleetCenter. Eric Williams didn't bring them out. Darius Miles didn't bring them out. J.R. Bremer didn't bring them out.
"He's the next big thing," Williams said of James. "He deserves it because of the way he plays, the fact that he understands the game, and he does everything so well."
This was Cleveland's 19th road game - and 14 of them have been sellouts, including both stops in Boston. That is a statistic unimaginable without James. The Cavaliers have the second-highest road attendance in the league, around 18,800. While hometown Cleveland hasn't been as quick to embrace him - only three sellouts, strangely - the attendance at Gund Arena still is up dramatically from a league low last year of 11,497 per game to 17,610 this year, 10th best, and an increase of more than 53 percent.
The second visit of James here was almost a subplot to the return of Williams, Tony Battie, and Kedrick Brown. (Oh yeah, and that football game tonight.) It was almost a subplot after Ricky Davis trashed the Cavaliers after Thursday's workout.
The Cavs are still struggling - although they're better since the trade with Boston - and while James might still be must-see, his team sure isn't. Especially last night.
Coach Paul Silas didn't see it coming. He said it had not happened all season, where his team basically raised the white flag and went through the motions.
He certainly could not have anticipated such an unremarkable night from his remarkable rook. James had averaged more than 24 points a game since the Dec. 15 trade with the Celtics. (Think he misses Davis?) In four of those games, he went for 32 or more. He already has six games of 30 or more points, two behind Tim Duncan for the most 30-point games by a rookie S.I. (Since Iverson). He is on pace to easily become the most prolific scorer of a high school-to-NBA lottery pick since Kevin Garnett opened the floodgates in 1995.
And last night he might not even have been the best James on the court. (The Celtics'Mike had 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists.) It was clear that Silas was less than impressed by what he saw.
Asked why James was the only starter still on the floor in ultimate garbage time, Silas said it wasn't because he wanted the fans to get their money's worth. "He needed to fight through it," Silas said. "It would have been easy to take him out because he was playing bad. But he was part of the problem and he has to learn how to fight through it. That's why I kept him in the game."
Asked why James was part of the problem, Silas said, "I'm not going to elaborate. He just was."
James wouldn't even talk about his own play.
"I never worry about me," he insisted. "We didn't win. That's what didn't go right. It was one of those nights. Every team in the NBA has them. It was just one of ours."
He showed occasional flashes in his 43 minutes. There were six assists, including one pretty no-looker to Battie. There were a couple of slaloms to the hoop that ended up with lefthanded bankers. There were three steals. But there were five turnovers and only three rebounds and 0 for 3 from international waters and 7 of 19 from the floor. He was on a bad team playing poorly but, when it ended, young fans clamored around him for his headband and anything else he might want to discard.
This was James's 36th game. He says he is not tired. He says he is still enjoying the attention and admitted that there still is a "learning curve" that he is going through. "It's probably better that I experience it early. I think that's what it's all about," he said.
He was asked if any of the attention - the ongoing LeBron Show - was draining. He shook his head.
"It's not a circus," he said. "You all [media] made it a circus. I'm not a circus. I've been doing this since my junior year in high school."
That would be two years ago. He turned 19 Dec. 30.