Did LeBron James Bully a Knicks Rookie to Wake Up the Cavaliers?

When you’re an All-Time Great, there are ways and ways to wake up your slumbering teammates.

You can, if the mood so takes you, have a 57-point night. You can play the post one night, from the point the next, maybe both in one night the night after, to show the underperformers that positions are really kind of ephemeral. And if neither of those, or anything else, works? Well, there’s always a Knicks rookie to pick on.

The Cavaliers-Knicks game in New York on Monday was notably weird for several reasons, not least the actually-pretty-decent Knicks taking a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter against a team still searching for an identity post-Kyrie Irving.

Not so weird: James sparking the comeback and sinking what proved to be the game-winning shot, a three-pointer over Kristaps Porzingis that had Isaiah Thomas dancing on the sidelines and gave the Cavs their first winning streak since the start of the season.

Weird: James’s feud with the 2017 Knicks, which doesn’t seem finished even after he apparently had the last laugh with that game-winning shot on Monday at Madison Square Garden. “James converted an alley-oop with 40.2 seconds left in the first quarter to put the Cavs up by one,” ESPN’s wrap-up stated. “He immediately crowded [Frank] Ntilikina, bumping his chest into the point guard while Ntilikina tried to free himself up to receive the inbounds pass, causing Ntilikina to shove his forearm back into James.”

James, whose real beef is with former Knicks President Phil Jackson (who called James’s business entourage a “posse” in an interview with ESPN last year), aimed a barb at the former Bulls head coach on Saturday when he said the Knicks, “passed on a really good one” by selecting Ntilikina ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. with the eighth pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. Enes Kanter, the Knicks’ center, accused James of “disrespect” on Sunday. After Kanter came to Ntilikina’s defence on Monday, he and James had to be separated by the officials. Both were assessed technical fouls.

As reported by the New York Post, James clarified on Monday that his issues remain with Jackson, not the Knicks or Ntilikina. Maybe—and only tangentially related to his dislike of Jackson—James also felt like he and the Cavaliers needed to manufacture a spark from somewhere to power up a stuttering early season. Picking on a rookie who is actually playing very decent defense—and proved on Monday night that he has the chutzpah to stand up to the harshness of the NBA—may have seemed like a strange way to go about that. But hey, the Cavaliers are 7-7 and, maybe, moving less hesitantly in the right direction. "Well, I'm the King, my wife is the Queen and my daughter's the Princess, so we've got all three covered," James said in response to Kanter’s post-game jab at his nickname. The Knicks remain a game ahead of the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference standings. But it’s hard not to feel like James will soon be laughing longest and loudest.

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