NEW YORK - LeBron James did not get booed Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.
Nike wouldn't allow it to happen.
It one of the stranger scenes of this Summer of LeBron, the King who took his talents to South Beach was kept conspicuously off-camera and did not speak to the crowd Thursday night as Team USA played a Nike-sponsored and Nike-produced intrasquad scrimmage on the stage where the Rockettes usually perform.
Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire and coach Mike Krzyzewski all took the microphone and answered questions from the emcee during timeouts, but James remained seated in the front row and was silent throughout the scrimmage as he made one of his first public appearances in one of the cities he scorned when he made his free agency decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.
Adding to the intrigue, James was barely even shown on the two large video screens set up stage left and stage right to give fans a closer view of the action -- a 24-minute scrimmage in which Andre Iguodala was the MVP and the blue team won, 49-47 in sudden-death overtime on an alley-oop dunk by Tyson Chandler off a pass from Rajon Rondo following an offensive rebound on the first possession of extra time.
James watched the first 24 minutes onstage wearing sunglasses -- just like his friend Jay-Z, who performed a concert after the scrimmage. But he took them off to watch overtime, which came about after Stephen Curry missed a 3-point attempt at the regulation buzzer that would have won it for the blue team.
The comments the crowd heard as the emcee interviewed Anthony, Paul, Wade and Stoudemire were innocuous at best, as were the questions ("Sample: Emcee to Paul: "How is your golf game?"). Interestingly, the emcee at one point asked "Do we have any Knicks fans in the house?"
The crowd was so silent, he had to ask it again, receiving a similar response.
No question the Knicks fans who were in the house would have opened their vocal chords, negatively, if James had been brought to the front of the stage for a public one-on-one with the emcee, but that never happened. (Nike spokesman KeJuan Wilkins declined comment.)
We shall see where this goes from here, but IMHO James being muzzled and kept off-camera is a development that will be dissected and debated ad nauseum by the sports business media, and deservedly so. When the biggest basketball star in Nike's stable is front and center yet silent and relatively unseen on one of the world's most famous stages, it certainly qualifies as a strange circumstance.