As for the guy in charge of the air conditioning, he should be fired. It felt like 90 degrees in the place. It was open bar, so I ordered, said hello to Ray Allen and made my way outside to enjoy the balcony. The stifling heat and gorgeous views would send everyone my way soon enough.
The nightclub was located across the Huangpu River from the players’ hotel and all the enormous skyscrapers. Shanghai is a boomtown, so everything that is new and big and in the postcards is actually not located in the city center. They’re in Pudong, which was once a suburb but is now the city’s financial district.
The enormous structures across the river glimmered and twinkled like the short dresses of the women in the club. Below the balcony, a dedicated group with “Wade” stickers under their eyes waited patiently for a glimpse of the players. Then, suddenly, all the lights went out over the river.
An ordinance requires the skyscrapers to turn off the tops of their buildings at 10 p.m. Still, even without lights the view was breathtaking. It was around that time James walked outside and found a seat.
“It is so hot in there,” he said.
James looked down at his iPhone and checked his Twitter feed. Like most (if not all) of the Heat’s players at the party, he was not drinking. James was wearing thick-framed gold-rimmed glasses, a buttoned-up vest and what looked like a multicolored ascot.
For a moment, he was alone and almost entirely by himself. He let out a road-weary sigh.
“I don’t know about you, but this trip has been pretty tiring,” James said.
For all my time in China, I never got more than four consecutive hours of sleep. Neither did James. Your body clock is so scrambled it just doesn’t allow it. During the week, James had to cancel a few Nike-sponsored events sponsored just to catch up on his rest. He stretched out his legs, a self-made barrier, and looked around him as the people on the balcony began closing in.
“Hey, LeBron, I know you read The Hunger Games,” said a man, American, clutching a beer. “I teach ninth-grade English and I tell all my students you read the books.”
“Oh, yeah,” James said. “Cool.”
The man asked James what he thought of the ending and James nodded his head, “It was a good read.”
James looked over and smirked ever so slightly. He read The Hunger Games during last season’s playoffs and ever since then people have been asking him about the book. The English teacher suggested a reading list of more science fiction, and James thanked him.
Below the balcony, the DJ played Frank Sinatra’s New York. James’ night was almost over. He was ready to leave.
A small child danced around the balcony, oblivious to the giant men surrounding him. Rashard Lewis and Joel Anthony were leaning against the balcony’s rail as fans screamed for their attention below.
“Who brought that kid in here?” James said, shocked by the sight of the toddler. “It’s way past his bedtime.”
And past James’ as well. He rose to his feet, nodded his head good-bye and walked past the toddler back into the club. His night was done.
While James was completely spent, Mario Chalmers was obviously full of energy. He bounced around, cracking jokes and enjoying the night. He looked down from the balcony and spotted Udonis Haslem, rolling into the party about two hours late.
“U.D. is here,” Chalmers said. “It’s on now.”
Remember that dress code? U.D. doesn’t do “smart and sexy.” He had on jeans and a simple black hoodie jacket. Haslem is tough and blue collar and genuine at all times. He strode unnoticed past the group of fans below.
Allen joined Lewis and Anthony on the edge of the balcony, and then it happened — the highlight, or lowlight of the night, depending on your perspective. One of the boy-band fans had somehow found his way up the stairs, past security and onto the balcony. He rushed toward Allen, pushing him backward against the railing.
“Sign my shirt,” he screamed in broken English into Allen’s face. “I love you! I love you! I love you!”
It was a guttural scream. He held out a pen and screamed it again.
“You don’t want me to sign you shirt,” Allen said to the man, who appeared to be in his mid-20s. “What’s your momma going to say when you come home with a dirty shirt?”
“I love you!” he screamed. “Sign! I love you!”
Amazingly, Allen remained completely calm.
“You momma is going to be mad,” Allen said with a straight face.
“I love you! I love you! I love you!”
Allen signed the breast of the fan’s white polo shirt and cracked, “You can find the same thing at your local Wal-Mart.”
Made in China. Just like this night.