I just love it when the arrogant get their comeuppance, don’t you?  Didn’t we all stand up and applaud when Leona Helmsley was incarcerated for tax evasion, and didn’t we laugh heartily when she proclaimed, “only the little people pay taxes”?  Weren’t we all in the theaters in 1982, rooting for Rocky to whoop up on Clubber Lang in Rocky III and shut him up for good?  Aren’t we all tired of Charlie Sheen’s shtick by now, even if we were mildly amused at first, and we’re all just waiting for his predictable and final implosion?  There is a built-in desire in all of us to see the boastful and bragging among us knocked down a few pegs, to watch the loud and proud become the meek and weak, for the conceited to be suddenly humbled, it’s human nature. 

Then there’s LeBron James, and I can confidently say, on behalf of real basketball fans around the world, James DESERVED his season to end the way it did, as the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat tonight, 105-95, winning their first NBA championship in franchise history, four games to two. 

Anyone who watch the preseason extravaganzas, the overhype, the bold predictions of multiple championships before the new Heat team ever set foot on the court, knows what I am referring to.  Here is a cat who got ESPN to play along with his self-promotion, devoting an hour special to his announcement concering leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to go play inFloridawith Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and the rest of the Heat.  Instead of continuing to build the Cavaliers into a contender and staying in Ohio where he was considered a god, he left to chase a championship and, in the process, destroyed the Cavaliers as a franchise and decimated the moral of the city of Cleveland. 

Self-promotion is nothing new in American sport, and professional athletes are bred from the moment they show physical talent to believe the world revolves around them.  Every team in every sport has locker rooms full of such cocky little bastards, and to be honest, who’s going to tell them otherwise?  In all the major pro sports, even marginal players command seven-digit annual salaries.  At home, games are like rock concerts; on the road, they stay in the finest hotels and party all night long with the hottest girls in town.  Hell, if that were my lifestyle, I’d probably get a big head as well. 

LeBron James, however, is arrogance squared.  His most notable quote is, when asked what his greatest aspiration is, he is not remembered for saying he wants to be a great basketball player or a champion, a great Christian, a great husband or father, but a billionaire.  This is a cat who didn’t have just one or two of his high school games on ESPN, but most of his entire senior season.  This is a guy who, once he changed teams and got flack for it, made a commercial that basically said, what did you expect me to do?  He was raised to be arrogant, it is his nature at this point. 

There is a very rare set of athletes who are arrogant and can get away with it, because they’ve shown themselves to be unbeatable in the arena.  Perhaps no one talked more smack than Muhammad Ali, but then again, he backed it up with perhaps the best boxing of the 20th century.  Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player who ever lived, but because he won six championships with the Bulls, his gambling binges and his retirement to play minor league baseball are conveniently put on the backburner.  Barry Bonds was an arrogant sonofabitch for most of his major league career, and while there is nothing the average viewer could do about it as his allegedly steroid-enhanced swing of the bat broke Hank Aaron’s home run record, the same viewer will always retain the satisfaction in knowing he never won a World Series.  Joe Namath, Deion Sanders, Dennis Rodman, they all ran their mouths, they all were cocky bastards on the field and on the court, but they all backed it up with great statistics and championship rings. 

At least for now, LeBron James is not one of those.  

It’s not so much that the Heat lost the series that’s so rewarding, it’s the way they lost it… or rather, the way James lost it.  Going into the season, the Heat were already crowning themselves champions, and James was being touted as one of the greatest ballplayers ever, if not the best.  They had a solid regular season and went through the 76ers, Celtics, and Bulls in workmanlike fashion.  They won Game 1 of the Finals and were up by 15 in the final minutes of Game 2 before the Mavericks caught fire, making an unbelievable comeback to win the second game, and the Heat were never again the same.  They won the third game to go up 2-1 before the Mavs took the next three and the title. 

That comeback in Game 2 might have broken the Heat, but it was James’ performances in the late stages of the game that killed them.  He deferred shooting to Wade, and when he did shoot, he often settled for outside jumpshots.  His game stats were okay for the most part, but then again, you look up and see he had EIGHT POINTS in Game 4.  He was often assigned to cover Jason Terry on the defensive end, and while Terry is a true scorer and no slouch at all, for him to light James up as he did on a nightly basis was just painful to watch if you’re a Heat fan; even Terry was getting into the cocky mouthiness, boldly stating James could not guard him for an entire seven-game series. 

In other words, James proved himself fallible, and that’s the worst thing a man raised to be arrogance incarnate can do. 

At the start of the year, James was considered the leader of one of the most physically talented rosters ever to grace an NBA court.  By the end of Game 6, he was a role player on Dwayne Wade’s team, and a disappointing one at that. 

For the team on the losing end of a championship series, the offseason is usually excruciating, having been so close to a title and a ring, thinking and rethinking what would have been if they had done this differently or that just a little better.  Unfortunately for James and the Heat, the collective bargaining agreement between team owners and the players’ union will expire on June 30, which may mean the same sort of lockouts and potential delay to starting next season, just as is going on in the NFL, which will mean an even longer time to sit and stew over this.  Even worse, if the owners end up getting what they want—a hard salary cap and restructured revenue sharing—it may mean the talent in Miami will no longer be affordable, and the team that talked about multiple titles may be broken up after just one season and no championships to show for all their smacktalk. 

This is all on James.  Few will say the same for Dwayne Wade, he’s always been in Miami, he’s been through the hard times, he’s been the centerpiece in this team that’s gone from the lottery to the Finals, winning it all in 2006; he’s been the soul of this team for years and deserves any and all praise that comes his way.  Chris Bosh will be let off the hook as well, he was considered the one of the Big Three with the most improvement ahead of him, and as this season progressed, so did his rebounding and defensive presence.  James is going to get all the flack for this, on several levels, and it’s probably justified. 

James made it clear that he is not what he was built up to be.  He is not the savior of any given franchise.  He couldn’t win a title in Cleveland when he was THE show, and he couldn’t win a title in Miami when he was one of the Big Three.  He left the team he helped build into a contender because he knew they weren’t going to get over the hump, so he did the easy thing and left to go to a team he felt could win it all.  The hard and perhaps more honorable way to a title and true basketball immortality was more than he could handle, so he laid up, sold out, for the sake of what he thought would be an easier ring with the Heat.  In the end, he looked lost on the court he used to dominate.  He gave up his shot on the offensive end and he was getting smoked on the defensive end. 

LeBron James has been exposed, and if and when the next NBA season starts, every team is going to be gunning for him, to take advantage of his now glaring weaknesses, to question his heart, to shut his mouth.  He’s long been called King James, but a king with no crown is no king, and it’ll be interesting how he comes back from this, knowing he’s actually a mere mortal. 

The truly great players acknowledge their weaknesses and use the offseason to work on them.  Magic Johnson always worked on his weaknesses, and every year you found him even better, this year with his three-point shot, the next year driving to the hoop harder, and as a result, the Lakers won five titles.  Larry Bird was never the most gifted athlete, but he spent hours every day, perfecting his fallaway shots, even will into his thirties when he was winning championships and MVP’s.  Ray Allen, the greatest three-point shooter of all time, is still at the court four hours before game time, working on his shot.  This has to be that kind of offseason for James, not just to work harder, but to work smarter, toward something definite, improving on what failed him in the Finals. 

Even if what failed him was his heart. 

All year long, I vocally rooted against the Heat, as I think many basketball fans did.  It was that kind of season, and it was that kind of Finals, where people weren’t so much rooting for the Mavs to win as they were the Heat to lose.  I’ll savor this for a while, even more so in the knowledge that LeBron James is going to have this gnaw at him the whole time.  I hope he comes back, shuts the fuck up, and plays the game with a fresh sense of humility and respect.  Talent alone does not win.  Neither does arrogance.  James found all this out the hard way.