CLEVELAND | As they made their exit, the New Jersey Nets passed the New York Knicks in the driveway of the parking garage.
Everyone came to see LeBron James.
Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, rap mogul Jay-Z, coach Avery Johnson and other team officials spent more than 90 minutes making a presentation on Thursday to James, the two-time MVP and budding global icon who became the most celebrated free agent in history at 12:01 a.m.
Prokhorov left with a few members of the Nets’ entourage at 12:43 p.m. Lagging a few minutes behind them was Jay-Z, a close friend of James, who was sitting in the back seat of a black sedan leaving the garage as the Knicks’ motorcade — 2 sedans and 2 SUVs — pulled in.
And so went the initial hours of James’ courtship, which has turned into his personal recruitment and has captivated the sports world.
“It went well,” Johnson said before the Nets’ congregation headed to Chicago to meet with free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The Knicks spent more than two hours speaking with James and his closest advisers and came away feeling they did all they could.
“I think it went well,” New York coach Mike D’Antoni told The Associated Press. “But obviously everyone that gets the chance to talk to him will probably say same the same thing.”
Knicks guard Allan Houston said D’Antoni made a strong presentation but couldn’t tell if James was impressed.
“He didn’t give us much feedback,” Houston said.
James followed the Knicks out the door. He didn’t say anything to reporters as he left in a Range Rover, presumably driving back to his home in Bath, Ohio. As he left, a pack of photographers and reporters chased after his vehicle, hoping for one signature shot or perhaps a sign from him.
After landing at Hopkins International Airport at 10:36 a.m. the Nets’ group made the short drive to Cleveland to meet with James at the office of his business manager, Maverick Carter. James arrived about eight minutes before New Jersey’s delegation.
James was driven from his home in Akron in a white SUV and was quickly escorted through a side door at the IMG Building, where dozens of reporters and photographers were waiting. Wearing a gray Nike T-shirt, sunglasses and sporting a backpack, he made a brief stop in the lobby before heading up to Suite 823, the headquarters of LRMR Marketing, the company James began with Carter and two other longtime friends.
When Jay-Z strolled through the lobby, several customers in a cafe adjacent to the lobby applauded and yelled his name.
The Nets were followed by the cross-river rival Knicks, who will attempt to sway James into leaving home for the league’s largest market. New York’s group included owner James Dolan, president Donnie Walsh, D’Antoni and Houston.
Walsh was brought into the building in a wheelchair following recent neck surgery.
The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are expected to meet with James on Friday, with the Cavaliers scheduled to visit with him Saturday.
Cleveland’s hoping that James’ loyalty to home will keep him in Ohio. The team gave him something to consider as free agency opened by offering Byron Scott their coaching job. Scott’s agent, Brian McInerney, told the AP that Scott has accepted the position.
James is not believed to have played any role in Scott’s hiring, which ended a drawn-out search by the Cavs. However, Scott’s background as a 14-year player and 10-year head coach in the league is certainly appealing to James. Scott took the Nets to the finals twice and built a strong relationship with New Orleans star guard Chris Paul, who is one of James’ closest friends.
James is being courted by teams — and cities.
New York launched a “C’mon LeBron” campaign, featuring Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a host of high-profile celebrities, to woo the 25-year-old to Madison Square Garden and the Big Apple. Not to be outdone, Cleveland, a city which would lose untold millions if James leaves, is banking on him staying put.
Large banners reading: “Home: More Than A Player” have been attached to the sides of buildings and hung over downtown streets.
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Cleveland contributed to this report.