Posted: Thursday July 8, 2010 11:51PM ; Updated: Friday July 9, 2010 9:37AM
Michael Rosenberg
Michael Rosenberg>INSIDE THE NBA

LeBron hardly a king for taking the easy way out with star-laden Heat

Story Highlights

LeBron's quotes on ESPN exposed his willingness to no longer be top dog

Jordan, Bird, Magic and Russell would've never left a challenge for an all-star team

There will be no excuses for the Heat, should they fail to win multiple titles

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GREENWICH, Conn., July 8, 1990 -- Michael Jordan announced on national television he's leaving Chicago to join the Detroit Pistons. Jordan said it was tough to bolt Chicago, where he was the most popular athlete in many years, because he thinks he has a better chance to win a championship if he plays with Pistons star Isiah Thomas. Jordan said by playing together, he and Thomas "won't have the pressure of going out and scoring 30 every night."

That would have sounded absurd, right? Well, it is no more absurd than what LeBron James is doing. Jordan was 27 years old in 1990, slightly older than James is now. He had never been to the NBA Finals. He had been beaten up by the Celtics and Pistons for years. He doubted his supporting cast was good enough.

But he never doubted himself.

And it became very clear Thursday night that LeBron James does doubt himself. James will be a champion in Miami -- if not next year, then sometime after that. If you put James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together and give Pat Riley five years to find the complementary pieces, that team will win a championship.

But James does not have the heart of a champion. He does not have the competitive fire of Jordan, the bull-headed determination of Kobe Bryant, the quiet self-confidence of Tim Duncan, the willful defiance of Isiah or the winning-is-everything hunger of Magic Johnson.

He is an extremely gifted player who wants the easy way out.

And how do we know this?

James said so himself.

Oh, not in so many words. But once ESPN was done ESPN-izing its LeBron coverage -- filling it with babbling experts, needless hype and Jim Gray submitting his top six entries in the Stupidest Question Ever contest -- the self-proclaimed King said everything you need to know about him.

1. "You have to do what's best for you, and what's going to make you happy."

This is what's going to make him happy? Sharing a stage with two other stars? Really?

I guess that's all LeBron is: A complementary player with superstar talent. We should have figured this out before: He got that giant CHOSEN 1 tattoo on his back and calls himself King James because he is desperate for reassurance.

There is no greater challenge in sports getting drafted by a godawful team, planting your flag in a city and working like crazy until you have turned that team into a champion.

LeBron James didn't want the challenge. He wanted to play with his buddies.

2. "We don't have the pressure of going out and scoring 30 every night or shooting a high percentage."

Whoa. Hold on there. Scoring 30 a night is too much pressure for one of the five most talented players ever?

Find me another all-time NBA great who would utter those words. Jordan would rather do an adidas commercial than say that. Bryant must have laughed as he heard the so-called "King" say that. Larry Bird? The next time he complains about pressure will be the first. Magic was the greatest team player of the last 40 years, but he was also so competitive that he wanted to play Jordan one-on-one in a promotional event -- and this was when Magic had won titles and Jordan had not, so Magic had more to lose.

3. "I know how loyal I am."

The man just dumped his hometown(s) on national television. Cleveland (and, by extension, Akron) happens to be the most tortured sports city in America. To do that, then say "I know how loyal I am" ... wow, wow, wow.

I wish I could sit in on one of LeBron's meetings with his advisers. Does he make them all wear mirrored sunglasses, so that when he looks at them he sees himself?

We really don't ask that much of our sports stars. Try not to get arrested for anything big. Don't curse at the fans. You know, small stuff. We even understand that 95 percent of the time, they will make career decisions based on money -- we might not love it, but we understand it.

But see, the biggest thing that we ask of our sports stars is this: Take the competition as seriously as we do.

When LeBron James loses to Boston in the playoffs, we want him to take the heat, not take the Heat's offer. We want him to spend the summer adding to his game, calling and texting his teammates, plotting to do better next season.

Instead, well ...

4. "It's about joining forces with the other two guys."

He sounds like a nine-year-old playing Star Wars games with his buddies at a sleepover. And again: I do believe this Miami team will win a title. But it won't be as easy as he wants it to be. Miami will have the weakest bench of any contender next season After that, the NBA will have a lockout, and the league could eliminate the mid-level exception, which would be Miami's best tool for adding talent.

So this is a cop-out, but it's not as easy of a cop-out as it appears. And that brings us to ...

5. "This is the greatest challenge for me."

LeBron James just jumped into an elevator and wants us to think he can fly. Sorry, but we know better. We know that he did something Michael, Magic, Bird and Bill Russell never would have done. We know he ditched Cleveland for an All-Star team.

But you know what? In Miami, anything short of a title will be a failure. Nobody outside of Miami will root for this team, and nobody in Miami roots for anybody. They're too busy enjoying the weather.

I thought he would stay in Cleveland, because I thought all he cared about was adoration. I was wrong about Cleveland, but he is wrong about adoration. He thinks he'll get it by winning a title. He has insulated himself from the world, surrounded himself with yes men. He has no idea how much backlash he is about to get.

That's one of the great ironies of this -- James is trying to flee pressure, but he will just face more of it. He is trying to maximize his "brand," but he just damaged it.

The first time I watched LeBron James live, I thought he could be the greatest player ever. The sad truth for us, for him, and for the NBA is that he never really believed it himself.

 
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