Rochester, for most our lifetimes, is a city of minor league sports. Hockey games at Blue Cross Arena, and summers at Frontier Field is enough to fill the sports appetite of our city.
This hasn’t always been the case though. From 1948 to 1957 Rochester was home to their very own NBA team. A team that beat the New York Knicks in 1951 for the NBA Championship. The only championship, the now Sacramento Kings, have to this day.
In 2006 the NBA was brought back to Rochester. In that game, a young Lebron James, really pissed Rochester off.
This story starts August 5th 2006 when it was announced that, for the first time since 1981, a NBA team would be making an appearance in the Blue Cross Arena. To top it off, the team visiting would be the Cleveland Cavaliers, with 21 year old, budding superstar, LeBron James. The Cleveland Cavaliers planned to travel up the thruway to meet Rochester’s northern neighbor, the Toronto Raptors. A team that included a third year, and future Miami super team teammate, Chris Bosh.
Rochester hadn’t had a NBA team visit since Larry Bird and the Celtics came to town for an intersquad scrimmage in 1981 to benefit the Rochester Press Radio Club. The Celtics also visited in 1979 to play the New York Knicks in a preseason game where a rookie Larry Bird dropped 19.
Tickets went for sale on August 8th, selling for between $25 to $150 for courtside seats. (Honestly not a bad deal.) Eager fans camped out starting at 5:30am for a chance to see NBA action to see Lebron play in person. You could also get a ticket by purchasing season tickets to, second year club, and ABA Champions, Rochester Razorsharks.
Promoters touted the game as the first of many possible preseason games in Western New York. There was talk of bringing local hero, Carmelo Anthony, and his Denver Nuggets for a preseason game during the 2007 preseason.
All seemed on track for Rochester to have it’s biggest NBA game since the 8,517 fans watched the 1956 NBA All Star Game in the then War Memorial.
The Dorshel Automotive NBA Classic, as it was called by promoters, was on track to be one of the more anticipated sporting events of the 21st century for Rochester. At least the most anticipated since the U.S Women’s National Team played a friendly in front of 14,000 plus at Frontier Field in 2004. About a week before the game was set to be played a potential problem arose.
The Cavaliers were scheduled to play Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Isreali Premiere League the night before in Cleveland. The speculation being that head coach Mike Brown would rest his star player coming off back to back games . Long time Democrat and Chronicle sports writer Bob Matthews was the first to call out James six days before the game.
People were already pissed before tipoff the game was even played.
Come game day, a record 9,435 entered Blue Cross Arena to watch the NBA’s return to Rochester. To the dismay of the fans, that return would not include Lebron James, who did indeed sit out the game after playing 30 minute against Maccabi Tel Aviv the night before. Fan’s didn’t even get to Toronto’s Chris Bosh play due to his sore left heel.
The game was an unremeberbal 103-81 drubbing of the Cavalier by the Raptor. The game included 10 points from 72 day Kardashian, Kris Humphries, and 15 points from NBA journeymen Drew Gooden. Fans were also treated to appearances from 2006 first overall pick Andrea Bargnani and future JR Smith soup attack survivor, Damon Jones.
Throughout the game chants ranged from “We want LeBron” to “We like Melo better” to “Lebron is overrated.” Lebron, not seeming to read the room, teased the crowd in the third quarter, getting off the bench and pretending to go into the game. At the end of the game LeBron was ushered off the court by boos.
Lebron had thoroughly pissed off Rochester and local media and fans made sure he knew it.
The Cavaliers brass sold it as “closely monitoring” their young star after playing in the World Championship the previous summer. Later that week, in a move that seemed to be done to intentionally piss off Rochester further, James played in a back to back on October 22nd and 23rd.
Many had wished, such as Scott Pitoniak, that LeBron James had just played a few minutes to please the fans.
And LeBron seemed to understand the frustration of Rochestiarians.
Rochester’s outrage at the lack of LeBron’s presence is the leading factor in why a top level pro team hasn’t visited since. (Aside from Bills Camp.) Who wants to travel to a cold, mid-sized city, just to be booed by people who have a delicacy called the “garbage plate,” for resting during a preseason game, when they already get jeered for resting during the season.
All of this came in a pre-Twitter world. One can only imagine the torrid of angry Rochesterians the world would have seen. The true anger of the city was hidden in letters to editors, deep in the daily papers.
So what’s the point of all this? Why did I write this? Well, there is none, and I really don’t know. At the end of the day it was an NBA preseason game 14 years ago. Lebron is this generation’s Jordan. In 20 years you could be sitting down watching a ten part documentary on Lebron’s career. In that history will exist the ever so slight connection to Rochester. Still pretty pointless, but hey, you read this far, so kind of interesting.
Pitoniak , Scott. “The King Sits.” Democrat and Chronicle , 19 Oct. 2006.
“LeBron’s Status Still in the Air.” Democrat and Chronicle , 16 Oct. 2006.
Mathhews, Bob. “No Excuse for King James to Sit.” Democrat and Chronicle , 12 Oct. 2006.
Daneman, Matthew. “Lebron Fan Rise Early for Tickets.” Democrat and Chronicle , 8 Aug. 2006.
Batzold, Tom. “LeBron, Cavs, to Play in Rochester.” 5 Aug. 2006.
Matthews, Bob. “LeBron Could Set Attendance Mark .” 7 Aug. 2006.