LeBron James is playing nice.
James had no snarky reaction to a billboard hanging near the Garden that challenged him to join the Knicks next season. The billboard contained a white Knicks jersey with his number 23 and “King of New York? Prove it. #KingJamesNYC18.” James even complimented the “cerebral” game of Knicks French rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina.
It’s not the first billboard James has seen in the US. A similar one also hung in Philadelphia. James is a free agent this summer, but the Knicks don’t have cap space or Kristaps Porzingis until Christmas at the earliest.
“I heard about it,” James said at the morning shootaround at the Garden on Monday. “Same reaction I’ve had to every last one of them I’ve had this year. I think it’s very humbling that cities and organizations want me to play for them at this point and juncture of my career. That’s it.”
On Friday, Dwyane Wade sarcastically said “good luck” when asked about the New York billboard.
Indeed, the idea is absurd at this stage as the Knicks finish up a disastrous campaign, taking a 28-52 record into the Cavaliers showdown on Monday night.
Sign near MSG asks for LeBron to join Knicks
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James previously had been at odds with the organization, with a back-and-forth with ex-Knicks president Phil Jackson over his use of the word “posse’’ blowing up last season. James wasn’t fond of how Carmelo Anthony was treated by Jackson, too, not to mention he’s friends with Garden adversary Charles Oakley.
In addition, James made a remark in November that Dennis Smith should be a Knick, which he said was a dig at Jackson — not the player they drafted in Ntilikina. It resulted in a Twitter war with Knicks center Enes Kanter and an on-court scuffle earlier this season.
In making nice with the Knicks’ 19-year-old point guard, James said he sees a lot to like with his basketball IQ and has been aware of him since last season. Ntilikina was French League teammates with one of James’ closest Akron friends, Romeo Travis, a power forward out of Akron, Ohio.
“I think he knows how to play the game,’’ James said of Ntilikina on Monday. “That’s the best thing first of all. He’s a very cerebral basketball player. I think defensively he does more things than offensively, but he’s getting better offensively as he gets more opportunity and plays more games. I’ve known about him for a few years because of Romeo. I think every game, he gets the opportunity to play more and he gets comfortable with the NBA game. He’s getting better. Defensively he’s been good since he stepped on the basketball court.”
In the last meeting, back on Nov. 13, James blocked Ntilikina’s path in trying to get the ball to inbound after James dunked. Ntilikina shoved James, after which Kanter came to the Frenchman’s rescue and jawed at James.
Kanter has missed the last four games with a back injury and is listed as doubtful for the game.
“It doesn’t matter — I didn’t think much of it,’’ James said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup for them, and we’re getting our point guards back tonight. That’s what I’m excited about.’’
James, 33, who is on track to play all 82 games, has put up MVP numbers but probably will be runner-up to the Rockets’ James Harden. The Cavaliers are still in a dogfight for the third seed with Philly, so he may suit up for the season finale Wednesday, when the Knicks’ home-and-home finishes.
For sure, he wouldn’t miss a game at the Garden — a place he has always talked about in reverential tones despite his distaste for the Knicks.
“It’s the mecca of basketball,’’ James said. “So many personalities and talents and not just athletes but musicians have been on this floor. It always feels like a play or concert type of feeling. Being an opponent in my 15 years, I’ve had a great feeling being here and being part of growing this building.”