James says he has no relationship with his father and no NBA mentor, either. He leans on a rapper, Jay-Z, to provide the perspective he sometimes loses. "He grew up in the inner city, in [Brooklyn's] Marcy projects, hearing, 'You'll be a statistic, you'll never make it out,'" James says. "Now we're sitting here in New Jersey, and he owns part of the [Nets]. He tells me, 'Remember where you came from, what got you here and why you love this game so much.'"
HE CAN WATCH THE WAVES OR RIDE THE BIKE, BUT in the end his sanctuary remains the same. "Tomorrow, one o'clock, basketball court," James says. "That's my peace. That's my home away from home. That's what I know I can do. For that moment in time I don't have to answer any questions. I'm just there with my teammates and my coaches, playing for the people."
The next day, at Madison Square Garden, James sings along to the hip-hop in the locker room. He dances as he stretches. At 1 p.m. he is booed during the national anthem, and again during introductions. He is booed when he turns his ankle in the third quarter, crumpling to the court after stepping on a fan's foot, and booed when he is helped up.
The following night, at the Prudential Center in Newark, he is booed more. But with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the Heat trailing by five, a force of nature appears. James is doing that thing he does, dribbling at the three-point line and then taking a few steps back as if to collect steam. "When he does that," says Nets forward DeShawn Stevenson, "it's like standing in front of a train." He attacks, one unstoppable surge after another, until he has scored 17 consecutive points, no field goals coming from more than five feet from the basket. The fans in Jersey are standing and cheering, snapping pictures with their camera phones, chanting M-V-P! as loudly as the fans in Miami.
When the Heat has won 101--98, James finds Jay-Z's nephew in the courtside seats and slips his headband on the boy. He removes his Nikes and hands those over as well. He tells the Heat's TV announcers he never thought he would hear MVP chants in an opposing arena again. Still, he will receive a text from Dambrot saying he needs to grab more rebounds.
After the postgame interview James strolls over, the conversation from Jersey City on his mind. "Does this work?" he asks. He's trying to stifle a smile, but he is showing teeth again. This works. This is you. He walks off in his socks.