July 9 (Bloomberg) -- The King resides in Miami, all right.
No, no, no, not him. LeBron James doesn’t deserve the sobriquet. Not anymore. Consider his royalty revoked.
As of 9:27 New York time last night, when James told the world he was leaving Cleveland for Miami, Heat President Pat Riley became the king. If anyone will rule over the National Basketball Association for years to come it’s him, not James.
“Gonna take my talents to South Beach,” James said in an hour-long special on ESPN.
By choosing to pursue a championship, make that championships -- plural -- alongside Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the two-time Most Valuable Player has positioned himself as nothing more than a piece of the puzzle.
“This definitely hurts LeBron,” said Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, a TNT analyst. “When you are 25 you shouldn’t be trying to piggyback on other people.”
Kings lead. James followed. Kings dictate. James acquiesced to the want and will of Bosh, who has never won a playoff series.
Two MVPs, a $90 million Nike contract, a friendship with Warren Buffett and unprecedented hoops hysteria meant squat to Bosh, who simply wouldn’t genuflect.
Bosh is a fine player, but no superstar. And yet he said no. Wouldn’t budge. Not even for you know who. Again and again, over and over, Bosh rebuffed the so-called King, who at the start of LeBronapalooza envisioned a dynamic duo in Cleveland, where James, he of Akron, Ohio, could’ve had it all. Hometown loyalty. Championship rings. Global icon status.
“If it was a perfect world,” James said, “I would love to have stayed.”
James figured his talent, charisma and aura would be enough to lure someone, especially his Olympic teammate Bosh. He was wrong.
Anywhere But Cleveland
The chance to join the so-called King’s court wasn’t enough for Bosh, who would’ve gone almost anywhere else with James. Anywhere but Cleveland. Nets, Knicks, Bulls, whatever.
Bosh made the first move, tethering himself not to James but Wade, the only one of Miami’s newly minted triumvirate who can boast of having won it all.
Now it’s up to Phil Jackson of the Lakers -- you remember them, Kobe Bryant and the defending champions -- and Boston’s Doc Rivers, who has a pretty good roster, too, to figure out a way to beat the revamped Heat. Good luck.
The Heat, no matter which players surround The Trinity, as Wade, James and Bosh are known, are going to be good. Really good. Good enough to persuade the beautiful people to dock their yachts, park their Porsches and head on over to American Airlines Arena. Forget fun in the sun.
What you’re about to witness is a testament to the abilities and savvy of Riley, he of the Armani suits and slicked-back hair. Still. The man who presided over Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers wouldn’t stand for Slowtime in Miami.
Heading into free agency, any team would’ve been thrilled to land any one of the big three. They would’ve been downright giddy with two. It’s doubtful any team or executive, except for Riley, gave any serious consideration to a clean sweep. But this was his plan all along.
“He’s great,” was James’s evaluation of Riley, who coached Wade and Shaquille O’Neal to the 2006 title. “Pat has been there. He’s coached and won championships multiple times. He’s played the game. He understands what it takes to be a championship team, the DNA of a championship team.”
More than anything, Riley understands the player mindset.
Back in 2006, for instance, Riley had a pit erected in the middle of the Heat locker room that was covered with a black cloth. No outsider was permitted to touch the tarp, let alone peek underneath. The players referenced the pit almost daily. It was theirs, only theirs.
When it was over, when the Heat had defeated the Dallas Mavericks, the secret was unmasked. The pit contained playing cards emblazoned with the championship trophy on one side and the words “15 Strong” on the other.
The players believed. They bought in. That’s half the battle in today’s NBA, where superstars like Wade and James are also brands and mini-corporations with dueling agendas.
Riley, we’re told, won’t coach this team. He doesn’t have to. His presence is enough.
I agree with Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who, according to ESPN, has told associates that James would probably win championships in Miami but dilute his brand.
James demonstrated his knowledge of NBA history last night, rattling off some of the game’s best tandems and teams. Magic, Kareem and Worthy. Bird, Parish and McHale. Thomas and Dumars. And, of course, Jordan and Pippen, who had a little help from the likes of Rodman and Grant.
As of now, Miami has Bosh, James, Wade and little else. The task of rounding out the salary-strained roster falls to Riley.
“The journey is just beginning,” he said.
All hail the king.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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