The best basketball player on the planet was in Kansas City Wednesday night. For nearly 30 minutes, LeBron James put on a show during the Miami Heat's preseason exhibition game against the Washington Wizards at the Sprint Center.
The Heat blew a 14-point halftime lead, letting the Wizards hang around in the third quarter before finally losing the lead in the fourth and, eventually, the game to a John Wall-less Wizards team.
Washington's anonymous bench mob of Martell Webster, Chris Singleton and Jannero Pargo toppled Miami's three kings. Webster scored 23 points in 23 minutes. Singleton threw down a few hammer jams on his way to 17 points. And Pargo dropped three 3-pointers on the way to 11 points and six assists.
But the 16,143 people inside Sprint didn't come to see the Wizards. They came to see the Heatles. They gasped when King James slid into a bank of photographers, and oohed and ahhed when James soared for a tip alley oop (assist to former Kansas Jayhawk Mario Chalmers). They roared when Chris Bosh took a sweet touch pass from James and threw down a two-handed monster jam. And they celebrated with every slick cut to the basket by D-Wade, who gave fans the most for their money, playing 33 minutes on his way to a fat stat line of 23 points, seven rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block. Wade's performance was good enough for player-of-the-game honors.
And props to the Heat for playing its stars for at least 24 minutes (including, in Wade's case, an unnecessary stint in the fourth quarter). The Heat didn't disappoint. Neither did the Sprint Center, whose staff did everything first-class. Once again, I walked out of Sprint believing that the place deserves an NBA franchise. This place is built for basketball.
There isn't anyone in this city who wants a team more than I do, but I lack the resources to be KC's Mark Cuban. And five years after the Sprint Center opened, there doesn't appear to be anyone else willing to step up, either. (Sprint's Dan Hesse did accept the game ball and seemed to enjoy sitting courtside, but he just took a pay cut.)
In fact, the arena seems even further away from getting an anchor tenant. (The NBA game happened to fall on the same day that the New York Islanders announced their move to Brooklyn.) Kansas City's case would have been better had the Sprint Center sold out (as it did two years ago, when the Heat played Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder). The crowd last night was loud and engaged, but there were noticeable pockets of empty seats (especially in the nosebleeds). The defending NBA champions, with two of the game's biggest stars, didn't draw a sellout? Blame an injury-plagued, lackluster Wizards squad (no Wall) and the last Sporting KC match of the season — one with playoff implications. The Heat may as well have been playing the Washington Generals. A couple of NBA fans I know mentioned that they didn't go because the Heat lacked a marquee opponent.
Seattle has a decided advantage over us: It has the will to build a new arena, a potential billionaire owner in Chris Hansen and the support of NBA czar David Stern. Sportspress Northwest's Art Thiel theorizes that Seattle may be a candidate for an expansion NBA franchise, though, and those things happen in twos. So KC, too? Until a money man (or woman) emerges, there's really no conversation in KC, and we'll have to settle for our annual preseason game.