September felt like June all over again, especially when another Big Three came up short.
James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul couldn't lead their team back from a dreadful start, as Team Philly beat Melo's stars of Baltimore 131-122 on Sunday night at the Palestra.
Just like when the Miami team led by James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was knocked off by Dallas in the NBA finals, the bigger names didn't click in time to get the victory many expected.
A sold-out crowd that greeted James with thunderous boos when he came onto the floor roared in the final minute when former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans used a series of fakes to drive into the lane for a basket that put it away at 131-119.
"Most of them are, it's not just the best players in the league, it's the best players in the world. And they're on the USA team, obviously guys get a lot of respect," Philly center Jason Thompson of Sacramento said.
"But at the end of the day, it's not like they're playing in a neutral place. You're playing in Philly and in all type of sports, basketball, football, baseball, anything, you know how Philly fans get."
With the NBA lockout now wiping out parts of the preseason and threatening to do more damage, Anthony helped put the game together along with his former Syracuse teammate, Hakim Warrick, and said there could be more.
"My mindset is I'll start next week. My body is trained, I'll start next week and that's where my mindset is at, that's where my body is at," Anthony said. "So games like this, it's fun. It's charity, but at the same time, we want to get something out of it."
And Warrick said for now, Philadelphia has the title of best team of the summer circuit.
"After beating that team, I mean we've got to be the champs," the Phoenix forward said. "We're taking on all challengers, but they've got to come through Philly. So whoever's next, they've come to through us."
James had 43 points and 23 rebounds, and Anthony had 31 and 17, but Paul wasn't in top shape in rare action during this NBA summer of inactivity. All three played all 48 minutes.
James and Paul left without speaking to reporters.
Former Villanova guard Kyle Lowry of the Rockets scored 34 points and Lou Williams of the hometown 76ers had 31 for Team Philly in what was called the "Battle of I-95." Evans finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds, and Warrick added 19 points and 12 boards.
Fourth quarters were the problem for James in the finals, but this time his team couldn't undo his start.
The passionate Philly fans booed James when he came onto the floor and even louder during pregame introductions, and they were delighted when the local team threatened to run the All-Stars off the floor in the opening minutes. With speedy guards Williams, Lowry and Evans repeatedly getting by their defenders, Team Philly raced to a 22-6 lead that it extended to 35-16 later in the first quarter.
James had only four points in the period.
Team Melo took the lead in the final period, but Lowry led a late flurry to pull it out for Philly.
The Melo team is based in Baltimore, but Anthony went outside his city to find James (Ohio) and Paul (North Carolina).
They were originally expected to have Kevin Durant, who's starred in a number of these games this summer from New York to Washington, and they could have used the reinforcements. The historic gym on Penn's campus wasn't air conditioned, and with only three substitutes, Melo's crew struggled to get up and down the floor at times.
But they got better as play went on - though the previously roaring crowd became increasingly quiet as it turned into a more half-court affair until James threw down Paul's lob pass from just inside center court to beat the halftime buzzer and cut Philly's lead to 66-58. But Philly, with a full roster, always was able to pull far enough ahead again.
Both teams warmed up in shirts reading "Basketball Never Stops" - but of course it has this summer in the NBA. The league announced Friday that training camps were postponed and all 43 preseason games scheduled for the week of Oct. 9-15 were canceled.
Representatives from the NBA and players' association hope to meet again this week but the window is tight, with the union holding a regional meeting Tuesday in Miami and some negotiators on both sides unavailable after that during the Jewish holiday, making it even tougher to agree to a deal in time to salvage any of the preseason.
So players are forced to find ways to stay in shape without knowing when they will need to be ready for sure.
Without the lockout, they would be entering their final week of the offseason before reporting to camp. James, Anthony and Paul have done plenty of traveling, conducting clinics and taking part in community service projects, but it's unclear how much basketball they've been able to play.
"My main thing, we just got to stick together, as players we're sticking together," Anthony said, "and in the meantime keep doing stuff like this, keep having basketball games, keep playing, keep giving fans what they want. It's not everything that they want, because they want a season, but hey, it's something."
Paul shot only 3 of 12 for six points and struggled to keep up with Philly's speedsters.
At halftime, organizers presented Anthony and Warrick a check for $25,000 to build a basketball court for their cities.