CLEVELAND - The fans began booing Celtics forward James Posey profusely every time he touched the ball Saturday night. Fouling Cavaliers star LeBron James hard, like Posey did in Game 3, a 108-84 Boston loss, can make people here turn on a Cleveland native quickly.
But just a mile away from Quicken Loans Arena, at an inner-city recreation center nicknamed "The Bath House," Posey is a beloved role model whose popularity eclipses that of even King James. It's there that the Celtics forward affectionately known as "Mikely" reigns supreme.
"I got pictures with him. He sends [the kids] tickets when he comes to town. I got mixed emotions now. I'm a Cleveland fan. I've been a Boston hater all my life. But it takes Mikely to make me a Boston fan," said Buddy King, who coached the young Posey at the center.
James Mikely Mantell Posey Jr. was born Jan. 13, 1977, in Cleveland to James Posey Sr. and Rosetta Moore. During his youth, his parents never lived together and he split time living with both. Moore lived in the heart of the inner city while Posey Sr. lived in the suburb of Shaker Heights before moving to Twinsburg, another suburb.
To find positive things to do when staying with his mother, James Posey often went to the Central Recreation Center. It was nicknamed the Bath House because when the building opened in 1919 it was named the Central Avenue Baths, where people living without plumbing in the nearby projects could take a shower or bath. It eventually was converted into a recreation center by the parks and recreation department, where all sports and activities are free.
"The rec center gave an opportunity for us to play all sports like soccer, softball, baseball, and basketball," Posey said. "That's what we had in our little 'hood right there. That's where it all started.
"We didn't have to pay. It kept a lot of us out of trouble. We'd go to the Bath House and play basketball all day. We'd go on [field] trips and things like that. It was great for me."
When he was with his dad in the suburbs, everyone called him James. But at the Bath House he went by Mikely.
"People call me Mikely in Cleveland," Posey said. "When people call me that, I know where they know me from."
Bobcats guard Earl Boykins, a Cleveland native and longtime friend of Posey's, said, "I remember when he was in high school they said, 'There is a guy that is good and he says he knows you. He said his name is James Posey.' And then when I saw him I said, 'That's Mikely. I didn't know him as James.' "
King first noticed Posey at the rec center when Posey was about 11 years old. While Posey was taller than most of the kids his age and a great athlete, it was his respectful demeanor that stood out to King.
"Here there are a lot of kids with talent, but you got to get in their head," King said. "You got to [hoot] and holler at them. The first thing I remember about him was he was a breath of fresh air. He was a kid who had [an involved] father and was really groomed."
King said Posey was talented in football, soccer, and track, but "hated basketball" until he was given a pep talk.
"He didn't like basketball. He didn't play basketball," King said. "He was a [heck] of a track kid doing the high jump. Heck of a soccer player and a quarterback for football. I said, 'Boy, you are 5-10 and weigh 32 pounds. Defensive tackles going to make a living out of you.
"I remember catching [his attention] and saying, 'I'm E.F. Hutton. You listen to me. You will play basketball.' "
Posey did just that, but he didn't become a hoops star near the Bath House. With his parents hoping to give him a better education in the suburbs, he attended junior high and high school in Twinsburg while living with his father.
Posey was the 1995 Associated Press Ohio Division 2 Player of the Year as a senior at R.B. Chamberlain High School in Twinsburg. Despite academic problems, he still received strong consideration from several colleges before choosing to go to Xavier as a Proposition 48 student. As such, he was not allowed to play basketball his freshman year so he could improve his schoolwork.
The naysayers believed the academic problems would send Posey back to Cleveland early. But he proved them wrong by earning a degree in criminal justice and forensic science.
"It taught me a lesson," Posey said. "I took school more serious. A lot of people thought when I went down there that I would come home a lot sooner. They said, 'He's a good basketball talent, but college and [high] school is something different.' I said that when I did come home I was going to have my piece of paper [diploma]. And I did."
Posey never envisioned himself being an NBA player when he went to Xavier. But during the 1999 draft, the Nuggets selected him with the 18th overall pick in the first round.
Nine years later, the 6-foot-8-inch swingman is still in the NBA with a 2006 championship ring with Miami and another shot at a title with the Celtics.
"It feels good due to the path that I traveled to get here," Posey said. "I just weathered the storm and have become an example to some. It's crazy."
Boykins, the NBA's shortest player at 5-6, says growing up in Cleveland's inner city helped him and Posey develop a strong work ethic that has lengthened their NBA careers.
"When you're growing up in inner-city Cleveland you got to work for everything," Boykins said. "Nothing is given to you. He has that same reputation. It never leaves you."
There are Posey posters inside the Bath House, and King hopes to get one of him as a Celtic soon. There are also pictures taken during his surprise visits there, too. And if everything goes as planned, the Bath House will have "James Posey Day" in the offseason.
"I always go to the Bath House to see what's going on there, talk to some of the kids, and keep them going," Posey said.
"He still comes in, takes pictures, and he talks to a couple kids right at that border line," said King. "I'm preaching to them, but it sounds better coming from him. I leave them in the room and he talks to them.
"They're Cavs fans, but you got guys here pulling for Posey. They're kind of split."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com