MILAN -- LeBron James is not here and if you think the Knicks were disappointed about the results of The Decision, you should ask some of the Milanese who plunked down $82 (Euro) when the tickets went on sale for Sunday's exhibition between the Knicks and AJ Milano. Sure, they're happy to see the homegrown star Danilo Gallinari playing for his NBA team and legend Mike D'Antoni coaching the team.
"But there were a lot of people who were hoping LeBron would be here, too," one Italian reporter was quick to point out to me.
LeBron is instead in training camp with the Miami Heat at an air force base in Florida. He's not with the Knicks in another country, but, considering some of the ridiculous things that have come out recently, he may very well be on another planet. Enough has been said from the national pulpits and I don't have the kind of self-importance that motivates me to make sure I get heard, too. We all know LeBron isn't a very deep personality with any kind of regular-guy perspective. We also know he takes some of the worst publicity advice ever given. Exhibit A: The Decision (the show, not his choice).
This is life, however, in the cocoon a guy like that has lived in during his years in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers went out of their way to shelter him from negative press while showering him in adulation. But once LeBron went on Twitter, the cocoon was cracked. Racism certainly exists on Twitter because stupidity and ignorance -- especially when ones identity can be hidden behind a made-up moniker -- party on such internet platforms. But to use that as a gauge for how White America perceives you is just as ignorant as the comments you've wasted your time reading.
None of this has anything to do with the Knicks, which is what makes me happy. This is all there to be handled by longtime Heat beat writer Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel and, once he gets down there working for ESPN.com, LeBron's personal beat writer (and an inexhaustible fountain of information) Brian Windhorst.
All I have to do is keep tabs on the seemingly inevitable Isiah Thomas Comeback and somehow give Donnie Walsh enough time to enjoy his new team before he's unceremoniously sent out to pasture. I almost wonder if LeBron did sign here, would we already be calling it a mistake, because, hey, the team could have traded for Carmelo Anthony!
Perhaps on opening night at the Garden, Oct. 30 against the Trail Blazers (BREAKING NEWS: Rudy Fernandez is still not a Knick!), Donnie Walsh should take the microphone a la Norman Dale:
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* - After a somewhat sloppy practice, the eighth straight day of training camp, this group clearly needs to play against another opponent. Raymond Felton is having fits going against the physical defense of Toney Douglas, who is never hesitant to use his hands and body to slow down the speedy Felton. At one point, Mike D'Antoni had to speak up as all of the players were grumbling. "Don't get cranky!" he said. "When you get tired, you get cranky."
* - The starting five: PG Felton, SG Chandler, SF Gallinari, PF Stoudemire, C Turiaf. D'Antoni said he is planning to go with an 11-man rotation, but in an exhibition game against an Italian League team, the Knicks will likely get just about everyone in the game. Stoudemire said he doesn't expect to play more than 20 minutes. D'Antoni admitted he hasn't done any scouting of AJ Milano, which is supposed to have a strong team that will contend for the Italian League title this year. Milan has former NBA player Oleksey Pecherov, as well as Americans Morris Finley (UAB) and David Hawkins (Temple) and two dual-citizenship players Ibrahim Jaaber (Penn) and Mason Rocca (Princeton).
But D'Antoni said his focus is about getting his team to do what they're supposed to be doing. Obviously, this will be recalled if the Knicks fall behind by 20 in the first half.
* - Sunday's game is obviously a big moment for Danilo Gallinari, but this homecoming trip has been exhausting for him because of so many demands on his time. To his credit, he turns down almost nothing and has been accommodating to the Italian media, as well as his buddies in the New York press corps (though it seems he's taken everyone in the city to dinner except us!).
* - Italian fans are certainly demanding. During one of the NBA Fan Fest events at Piazza Duomo, a few Knicks players took part in a shooting exhibition on a portable rim. Anthony Randolph and Wilson Chandler struggled to make three-pointers and were booed for their misses.
* - Mike D'Antoni and his wife, Laurel, on Friday night enjoyed a reunion dinner with about 100 former teammates, players and staffers from his years as a player and coach for the Milan franchise. The evening opened with some video from D'Antoni's playing days and the first clip brought the house down: it was a night when D'Antoni got lit up by an opposing point guard. This morning D'Antoni was then presented with a large photograph from one of the championship seasons, taken right after the clinching win. A young, mustachioed D'Antoni among a group of his teammates celebrating the title. They are moving the team offices here and the photo was found somewhere in the basement. The D'Antoni's will display this one prominently in their Rye City, N.Y. home.
* - For those of you who are DISH Network subscribers, you will not see Sunday's broadcast of the game (12:30 p.m. ET) on MSG Network because of a contract dispute. NBAtv, however, is also televising the game, so you may be able to catch it there.