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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Miami's LeBron James gets a rise out of opposing crowds

Going into game against Clippers, Miami has won 21 of 22, and the superstar has played role of villain across the country. But the more the home crowd boos the visitor, the more he seems to flourish.

January 11, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Miami forward LeBron James, front, and teammate Chris Bosh celebrate following the Heat's 107-100 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.
Miami forward LeBron James, front, and teammate Chris Bosh celebrate following… (Rick Bowmer / Associated…)

"The way he did it wasn't the right way but ... he lives with it every day and he seems pretty happy.... Do I agree with it? Do people agree with it? No, but they're not him." — Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

Actually, no one was ever close to being LeBron James and, in the way of all-time greats, no one may ever be as hyped, adored and reviled by 25.

That's how old he was when he signed with Miami, and the Heat's image changed from squeaky-clean and corporate to Attila and the Huns.

Who could forget those heady days?

"Taking my talents to South Beach" was a national straight line.

They started 9-8.

ESPN, which hosted James' announcement, the Career Suicide Hour, dropped its Chase for 72 wins and LeBron-averaging-triple-double updates on the Heat Index, its only microsite devoted to one team.

Instead, a new feature charted awful things people said, including accusations that James tried to dump Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra.

Unfortunately, it's still not nice to fool with Mother Nature, or Bron.

Going into Wednesday's game against the Clippers, Miami has won 21 of 22, and there's a new word for LeBron haters:

Suckers.

At every stop, he throws the chalk dust in the air to announce his arrival, the rubes boo ... and he does a major destructo on their team.

Miami, which started 2-5 on the road, is 13-0 since, with James averaging 28, shooting 51% from the field and 42% on threes.

At home, he averages 23, 45% and 27% on threes.

In Sunday's 107-100 overtime win at Portland, he scored 44, including 13 as Miami came from six behind in the last 3:08 of regulation, noting afterward he has come to enjoy the role of villain....

Not a real villain, of course, with his ultimate goal still "global icon."

"It's kind of just a joking thing," James said after Tuesday's practice.

"It's just when I go into an opposing building, there's nothing but venom thrown at us.

"So you embrace that atmosphere that we always go into on the road.

"I definitely do."

What he embraces dies.

The Heat was never shakier than in his Dec. 2 return to Cleveland, when feelings ran so high, Chris Bosh was happy they wouldn't be there long because "It gives people with mal-intent on their mind less time."

At 11-8, Spoelstra's survival was in question in Miami, with reports of his demise exaggerated around the clock.

The Worldwide Leader, which regards James as family or, at least, its story, almost lifted off its Bristol, Conn., campus.

"Is it possible this one game and the outcome will determine, well, really, what the players in that Miami locker room have to say about their coach?" asked anchor Josh Elliott.

"Let's face it, they haven't improved since opening night in Boston," said NBA expert Chris Broussard.

And it had been 37 days!

Amid speculation James wouldn't dare throw the chalk dust in his old fans' faces, up it went.

He scored 38 as the Heat won by 28, the third win of their 21 in 22 games.

Two weeks later, New York, being New York, held a boo-in after years of LeBronstock festivals.

James got 32-11-10 and Miami won by 22.

Sunday they got the big treatment in Portland, which, being Portland, was sure everyone had it in for them before James went to Miami, or was born.

That didn't turn out so hot for the home team, either.

"These guys love anything that will pique their interest," said Spoelstra.

"That [Cleveland] game, in itself brought us together closer as brothers, where guys didn't want to let each other down."

At this rate, no one will have to worry if James is laughing on the outside but crying on the inside.

If they win a title, everyone will move on to new issues, like can anyone beat them, or does this title count as one for LeBron, or do he, Bosh and Dwyane Wade get 0.33 each.

(If you think they're good now, see what happens if they get a Marc Gasol-level 7-footer next summer.)

The world is back to the one James knows, an apple waiting to drop into his hand.

"He's been so loved and hyped his whole career, it gives him something different to play for," said Wade.

"It seems like every time he comes into a situation where he's going to be the huge villain for the night, he rises to the occasion ... as good as anybody I've ever seen do it."

Anyone booing Wednesday will either be from Miami, or a slow learner.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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