And so the Celtics depart Cleveland just as LeBron James is going in, a fitting development in what thus far has been a glorious NBA season.
The Celtics are one step ahead. James is at least one step behind. And Miami is now learning about the egomaniacal, self-absorbed, narcissistic blowhard who calls himself the King.
Here in Boston, we can take special gratification in all of this, and not solely because the Heat were the consensus choice to challenge the Celtics for supremacy in the Eastern Conference. We can take joy in the fact that Heat are failing where the Celtics succeeded, specifically in the meshing of egos and playing styles that took place here three years ago. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen came together and proved they knew how to win, and they proved it almost instantly. The Heat are clearly having a hard time learning it at all, their lessons instead reduced to something far more subversive.
LeBron James is a coach killer. He might be a team killer, too. The Heat threw themselves quite a party when James, Dwyane and Chris Bosh converged on South Beach, confetti streaking down on them in what was, in retrospect, a laughable bit of self-indulgence. Now the Miami trio is all but naked, especially the King, all of them nervously scurrying around for scapegoats like a bunch of thong-wearing Euro weenies in search of the next trendy hangout.
Appletinis for everyone.
Don’t we look mahvelous?
Wouldn’t you just love to know what KG really thinks about this? Pierce? Allen? Shaquille O’Neal played with James last season, and he must be scarfing all of this down as if he were picking from a bottomless bowl of pistachios. Shaq could have told them that LeBron is about LeBron in the same way that Kobe is about Kobe, albeit with one rather sizable exception. Kobe competes. Kobe closes. Love him or hate him, Kobe went nose-to-nose with these Celtics and beat them, no ifs, ands, or buts from Boston’s point of view.
But LeBron? Please. What has LeBron won against people who were something even remotely close to his physical peers? In 2008-09, the Cavs had the best record in basketball and failed to make it out of the Eastern Conference. Last year, Cleveland repeated the trick and got bounced in the second round. During that time, the Cavs brought in anyone and everyone in an attempt to appease James, and all it got them was a front-row seat for The Decision after LeBron all but single-handedly fired coach Mike Brown.
So LeBron took his talents to South Beach, where a funny thing has happened amid the shower of confetti. The Heat look pretty darned mediocre. Chris Bosh looks more like Antawn Jamison than he does Garnett. James already has complained about minutes and now seems focused on getting yet another coach fired because, as we all know, losing is never, ever the fault of the King.
If you’re Pat Riley today, here’s what you do: you walk into coach Erik Spoelstra’s office and you put your arm around him, then escort him into the locker room. You tell the players to sit down. You stand there and say, in no uncertain terms, that Spoelstra is the coach of your team and that he will be the coach for this season and beyond. You tell the players to adjust or keep losing. You then take Spoelstra out of the room and into a press conference, and you deliver the same message to the media. You call out the Miami players for selfishness and subversive behavior, starting with the King, and you embarrass every last one of them.
You do to the King what he has done to most everyone else in his career.
You make him the scapegoat.
The Celtics? They should be a model for James, not a target. Instead of chasing after them, maybe he should stop and examine what they have done. Garnett, Allen and Pierce all gave up parts of themselves, swallowed their egos. They empowered their coach, who had never won a thing when they got here. They bought in and trusted. That group of Celtics has played in two of the last three Finals, winning one and losing another in seven games. And now, even as age becomes more and more of a factor, they remain the lead dog in the Eastern Conference because they long ago learned something that LeBron James still hasn’t grasped and maybe never will.
They learned to be accountable.
They learned that everyone wearing the uniform has exactly the same things at stake.
They learned that humility breeds togetherness and togetherness breeds success.
On the floor and off, they learned to be a team.
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