Wednesday, October 27, 2010

James will need to embrace being the heel

By John McMullen

LeBron James has always been loved.

During his days in Cleveland "The King" was always the babyface, the guy wearing the white hat, the protagonist in the reality television show that was the Cavaliers chasing the franchise's first world championship.

He was the Brett Favre of the NBA. We all loved the youthful exuberance he showed while playing the game, the ebullient smile and his ability to make something out of nothing on the floor.

Like Favre, however, somewhere along the line the narcissism showed up. By letting his immature hangers-on shop his divorce from the Cavs to ESPN, James essentially flipped his middle finger at his hometown fans and the people who loved and supported him since high school.

Overnight, he became the heel, the cowboy in the black hat, the antagonist.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Some people thrive on being the bad guy and a hero can't exist without a villain nipping at his heels. Batman needs his Joker, James Bond had to have Dr. No. For every Clarice Starling there has to be a Hannibal Lecter and for every Hulk Hogan it's always good to have a "Rowdy" Roddy Piper laying around.

Problem is, James isn't well-suited for the heel role he now finds himself in. After one regular season game, it's apparent that the enthusiasm we all loved is gone, the smile is history.

Basketball now seems like a business to a 25-year-old kid who couldn't hide his love of the game before a public relations faux pas. I just hope he doesn't have Jenn Sterger's phone number and a pair of Crocs.

I'm sure James occasionally eyes his long time friend Maverick Carter and wonders what it would be like to have a competent advisor in his ear. But, even if you consider Carter the Wizard behind the curtain in "The Decision" debacle, it's James that came across as the selfish, ego-driven athlete for the first time.

In that one ill-conceived moment, James went from the most popular figure in Cleveland to a pariah who now rivals Art Modell as the most vilified sports figure in the city's history.

Perhaps he could handle that but the rest of the country has hitched its wagon to the Forest City and declared James a pariah -- an overrated fool that couldn't get things done when it got tough in Cleveland so he fled for an easier life in Miami.

Of course things aren't going to get easier in south Florida for James. Sure on paper his teammates are better but the Heat may want to embrace Billy Joel's "Pressure" as their anthem this season. Anything short of an NBA championship will be viewed as a disappointment, almost a disaster.

The NBA's version of The Beatles will be under a microscope each and every night. Win tonight in Philly by 25 points and people will yawn ... "you should have won by 30."

Lay an egg in your opening night performance like the Heat did in Beantown and the vultures start to circle.

"We all know Rome wasn't built in one day. We understand that," James said after Miami's loss to the Celtics "We just need to continue to get better."

In the most anticipated opener in NBA history on Tuesday, Miami's new "Big Three" of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh just wasn't good enough to get past a Boston team gifted with incredible chemistry and a defensive mindset.

James, with his new uniform No. 6, made a jumper from the right wing just 1:07 into the game and finished with a more than respectable 31 points on 10-of-21 shooting, but Wade and Bosh added just 13 and eight points and shot a combined 7-of-27 from the field.

"(Chemistry) is something that you know isn't going to be 110 percent (right away)," James said. "We need to work every day to continue to get better through our practices and our games. We haven't had much practice time together or game time together. As the season goes on and the practices go on we'll continue to have camaraderie."

The Heat were trailing 16-9 following 12 minutes of action. By halftime, it was 45-30 as Miami shot just 11- of-41 (26.8 percent) from the field.

The Heat finally got it going a bit in the third quarter but after Big Baby Davis hit a jumper to give the C's an 83-70 advantage with just over four minutes remaining, the TD Garden faithful started to chant "overrated."

Miami and James answered with a 10-0 run before a Ray Allen dagger put things away with under a minute to go.

On cue, the vultures took to the air.

"In the half-court, (Miami) is going to be a jump-shooting team," TNT analyst Steve Kerr said. "Bosh does not have a post game, LeBron does not have a post game yet and Wade is still finding his way. Wade may have to make the biggest sacrifice in this whole experiment with these three guys together."

"The one weakness Miami has is they are just a jump-shooting team," Charles Barkley added. "They have to play at a much faster pace. As great as Dwyane and LeBron are, they aren't great jump-shooters."

Yep, in 48 minutes, the Heat went from challenging the Michael Jordan-Bulls for the NBA's best all-time record to a group of incompetents unable to sink a simple jump shot.

The Joker might blow up a hospital if he was disrespected like that.

Dr. No would surely unleash SPECTRE on the world, while Lecter would be looking for some fava beans and a nice chianti and Piper would be swinging a coconut over someone's head.

LeBron ... the ball is in your court.

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