LeBron James has done a lot and seen a lot over the course of his 14-year N.B.A. career. He has won championships. He has traveled the globe. He has become an icon in his chosen field.
But James is still finding ways to mark out new territory. Such was the case this week when, for the first time in his career, he opted not to stay at his team’s designated hotel, ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 126-94 victory over the Knicks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The team hotel, in this instance, was the Trump SoHo. A number of James’s teammates joined him at a different (and undisclosed) Manhattan hotel in what amounted to a modest political protest.
Nevertheless, James insisted he was not “trying to make a statement,” telling reporters at the team’s Wednesday morning practice at the Garden that his decision to stay at a hotel not bearing Donald J. Trump’s name was “just my personal preference.’’
“At the end of the day, I hope he’s one of the best presidents ever for all of our sake — for my family, for all of us,” James said of Trump, the president-elect. “But just my personal preference. It would be the same if I went to a restaurant and decided to eat chicken and not steak.”
It was hardly a forceful statement from James, who endorsed Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign and made a public appearance with her shortly before the election. And James was not eager to elaborate, cutting off a reporter who wanted to ask more about Trump.
“Next question, please,” James said.
Perhaps his choice to stay elsewhere was enough — enough to convey displeasure with Trump and some of his rhetoric and enough to reinforce James’s own status within the N.B.A. when it comes to social issues.
In a league in which players and coaches have become increasingly outspoken, and in which the commissioner, Adam Silver, seems fine with just about all of it, James can still be cautious with his words. But he is opinionated when he wants to be, and at age 31, with three championships to his name, he seems more self-assured than ever.
Consider his response when he was asked what he had learned about himself since winning a championship with Cleveland last season.
Nothing, was his answer.
“I know who I am, and I know what I’m capable of,” he said.
That clearly seems to be the case. And his visit to New York, his first this season, was particularly unusual in that it was not just Trump whom James, in some sense, was taking on.
He is now in a protracted standoff with Phil Jackson, the president of the Knicks and the man with more championships (11) than any other coach in N.B.A. history.
Jackson ran afoul of James last month for describing James’s business partners as a “posse” in an interview with ESPN. James said that he considered the word to be racially charged and that, as a result, he had lost respect for Jackson. Even before arriving in New York, James said he had no interest in meeting with Jackson to clear the air.
And that was that, as far as James was concerned. “I’m not answering any Phil Jackson questions,” he told reporters at the practice.
There is basketball to consider, too, of course. James and his Cavaliers teammates arrived in New York, if not at the Trump SoHo, on the heels of a 116-112 victory over the Toronto Raptors that halted a three-game losing streak, a rare stretch of adversity for these defending champions.
And in roasting the Knicks, the Cavaliers improved their record to 15-5, the best mark in the Eastern Conference. With Jackson watching from his usual perch several rows into the crowd, James was dynamic, collecting 25 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. He soared for dunks, turned defenders into traffic cones and elicited gasps from the crowd.
“It’s always special,” he said before the game of playing at the Garden. “There’s so much history in this building, so many performers — not just in sports but in general. So it’s always great to be an outsider coming in here.”
As to which Cavaliers joined James in staying at a different hotel, and which did not, a team spokesman would say only that “a good number’’ boycotted the Trump SoHo, where the team had booked rooms well ahead of the current season and the presidential election. (While the hotel bears Trump’s name, he is no longer an owner.)
One of those who did not stay elsewhere, however, was James’s coach, Tyronn Lue.
“I mean, it’s not normal,” Lue said at the practice when asked about the two-hotel arrangement. “But considering the circumstances, that’s what we have. That’s not my main objective. My main thing is to try to get this team to stay on track and play the right way.”
James and the teammates who joined him at the second hotel are not the first athletes to take this sort of step to dissociate themselves from Trump.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez opted not to stay with his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates at a Trump hotel in Chicago in May. And last month, ESPN reported that three N.B.A. teams — the Milwaukee Bucks, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks — were no longer staying at Trump-brand properties in New York and Chicago.
A press officer for Trump declined to comment.
For James and the Cavaliers, there was Plan B: two hotels for one team. Still, James said the Cavaliers took only one bus to the Garden for the practice, where his teammates, as usual, fell in line behind him. It was more of the same.
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