- Associated Press - Friday, December 17, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Dwyane Wade could have seen LeBron James ending up in New York. And for a time, so could James.

But once July 1 arrived, the Miami Heat simply made a more persuasive pitch.

“I feel like every team that was looking for a change had hope,” James said Friday night before the Heat faced the Knicks. “For me, I weighed out the process and the Knicks were part of that process. At the end of the day I decided to go to the Heat.”

So the biggest victory in the Knicks-Heat rivalry may have come in an office building in Cleveland.

James hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers and the other five teams that were hoping to sign him over three days once free agency opened. The meeting with the Heat, plus his chats with Wade and Chris Bosh, convinced him that his road to titles was through South Florida.

“It was just the message I got from Miami,” James said. “The message I got from Miami was everything I needed to hear. The system, the coaching, the organization, and D-Wade and CB being good friends of mine, I thought it was the best fit for me.”

New Yorkers were sure it was the Knicks. James has always said how much he loves playing in Madison Square Garden, and figured if he did leave the Cavaliers and his native Ohio, he wouldn’t be able to resist the business opportunities that would await him if he could bring the Knicks back to the top.

For a while, Wade bought into that hype, too.

“Maybe when I first heard it, from everybody in New York that thought they had him here, I was like, ‘OK, maybe. Maybe it’s possible,’” Wade said. “With the big stage, I know he likes the big stage, the big city. Of course, if you’re a star in New York, you’re a worldwide star, but after a while it was a lot of possibilities.”

Wade was the second-biggest star available and the Knicks had enough money for two, but he never saw himself ending up in the blue and orange.

“I don’t think they really wanted me here anyway,” Wade said.

Maybe not, but they definitely wanted James, essentially using two seasons to set themselves up to afford him and one other superstar when the summer 2010 free agency opened.

He denied passing on the Knicks because of their lack of talent, nor because the spotlight in New York was too big. In fact, he never really said why or how the Knicks were eventually ruled out.

“It wasn’t just the New York Knicks, it was the five other teams that was on my radar,” James said. “I think Miami was the best chance for me to win. And I know D-Wade and we had some great conversations and I know Chris and we had some great conversations and ultimately that’s where I decided to go.”

Though James and Wade were the top players available, the Knicks probably would have preferred James and Bosh, or James and Amare Stoudemire, so they had a big man to balance the roster.

They ended up only with Stoudemire, who had scored 30 or more points in a franchise-record nine straight games entering play Friday. James, the two-time MVP, said Stoudemire is probably the leading candidate for the award so far this season.

And he has the Knicks on pace for the turnaround that Miami’s Big Three all declined to lead.

“He’s playing great. He’s doing what he was signed here to do. You don’t come to New York not ready,” Wade said. “Amare signed here and he was the first one to sign. That showed that he was ready for the challenge and he’s taken that challenge and playing probably the best basketball he’s ever played and his confidence is up high. That’s the Amare we all know and see.”

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