LeBron James gracious in defeat? Get real

Crisis averted. The Miami Heat was not rewarded for its chutzpah, and the Dallas Mavericks are the NBA champions. A lot of people, including me, didn’t want to see the Heat cash in so quickly after last summer’s Decision Debacle and all the ridiculousness that followed.

But I found as the Finals began that I didn’t care nearly as much as I had at the beginning of the season. Did you? Or did you, like me, feel that life’s too short and there are bigger worries than whether LeBron James hoists a trophy this year or next? Because it’s obvious the Heat is going to win the title soon. So the inevitable has been delayed at least a year — so what?

And then James once more opened his mouth and proved that he may be the most clueless athlete in professional sports (and that’s saying something). Here’s what he said after Sunday night’s 105-95 loss in Game 6 to the Mavericks:

“All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

The insistence of the part of James — and earlier in the season, Dwyane Wade — that the rest of the world’s happiness or lack thereof is based solely on the outcome of their basketball games is baffling to me. Sure, there were people rooting hard against the Heat — just as there are James lovers out there who were rooting for them. I can hardly wait to see the new movie “Bad Teacher” just to hear the full exchange between the character played by Jason Segel and a kid arguing that James is better than Michael Jordan. Segel’s character, of course, brings up rings — as in NBA championship rings — and the kid can’t believe that’s his best argument. That scene should bring down the house this summer.

Had James been gracious in defeat, it would have gone a long way to calming even the most rabid of the haters. The Heat improved by leaps and bounds this season after an early losing skid, some sulking and what appeared to be a power struggle between James and Coach Erik Spoelstra. At one time, this team’s arena was so empty that the Heat placed ads in the local paper, begging fans to come to its games.

And America chortled, of course. But Wade, James and the rest also said to give them time to play together and they would develop into a cohesive team. (A lot of other people said the same, too.) By the time the playoffs rolled around, they were pretty good. In fact, they may have been the best they could be — as a team.

The trouble was, so were the Mavericks, and they also had the extra incentive of going one-on-one with Father Time, trying to grab one ring before the AARP cards began arriving in the mail. The Mavs needed it more, no question, and despite some disparate parts, they somehow found a way to gel.

The Heat never really did. Even after 82 regular season and 21 playoff games, Miami still didn’t always play like a team. There seems to be confusion at times about who should have the ball in what situations, and there seems to be uncertainty over when James should take control of a game — or even if James should take control of a game. (I am in favor of him loading that team on his back if that’s what it takes to win, and if the Heat make next year’s Finals, perhaps he will.)

But there’s a long time to go until next year’s Finals, and plenty of time for the Heat to address its needs. (A strong center would be a good place to start). But the key ingredient is time. That’s what it takes — not an ESPN special and a pep rally — to build an NBA champion.

I certainly don’t think James should take all the responsibility for this year’s failure — and yes, I think given all their preseason talk it’s fair to call it that. Some of the blame should fall on Spoelstra. He survived the early LeBron unhappiness, but he may not be the right coach for this bunch. This would be the perfect job for the late Chuck Daly, who in Detroit handled far bigger chuckleheads and guided them to two rings. Spoelstra doesn’t have the gravitas to sort out this locker room, I fear.

But the pressure’s really going to be on Pat Riley to find the right pieces to make the Heat a team — and to face the renewed calls to return to the bench. He’s chock full of gravitas, that’s for sure.

But enough of that. The Heat have plenty of time to work out its kinks, and it’s time for you and me to return to “the real world,” as James advises. (And who better to counsel us in the goings on of the real world than James?) It was a nice break while it lasted, though, wasn’t it? I know I thoroughly enjoyed the past few stress-free months.

And James, too, is free to return to the wonderful life he’s always had — knowing that he personally engineered one of the most crass leave-takings in the history of sport, that he made promises he couldn’t keep (eight championships, LeBron, or was it nine?), that he has fewer NBA championship rings than DeShawn Stevenson — and that he fell short on the world stage in spectacular fashion, then behaved with almost breathtaking boorishness.

I don’t know about you, but my own “real world” is starting to look pretty good by comparison.

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