‘King’ looks more like follower than leader

The King?

Of what, exactly?

Hype? Wasting time? Stacking the deck?

Check, check and double-check.

So LeBron James is going to Miami. Man, did he ever pick the right place to win. Just don’t forget why people say to be careful what you wish for.

Because when James finally does win it all, chances are good he will be as much a follower as a leader, a bigger, better, badder version of Scottie Pippen, another prince who collected a fistful of rings yet was never really cut out to be king.

He could do worse, of course. The shame is James could have done better.

A real king would have dug in his heels in Cleveland and redoubled his effort to patch the cracks in the foundation of a franchise that spent more than seven seasons and hundreds of millions trying to build him a throne. That’s what Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant did. Maybe even give the Cavs a hometown discount, taking less money than he was worth to free up cap space down the road, the way Tim Duncan did.

Not LeBron.

He’s lighting out for South Beach to hang with superfriends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as the rest of us recover from an hourlong infomercial that was conceived and choreographed by his advisers, then aided and abetted by ESPN. The announcement was expected to draw audiences rivaling Tiger Woods’ apology and the O.J. verdict — the two biggest nonsports sports stories ever. And just like those two, James is probably the only guy coming out of it who actually believed what he was saying.

Even the kids from the local Boys & Girls Club stuck in the background as props — who would have guessed that wealthy Greenwich, Conn., even had a chapter? — knew that just because James has a tattoo that says "Loyalty" doesn’t make it so.

The most telling moment came when he was asked whether it would have been "sweeter" winning a title in Cleveland, just down the interstate from Akron, the town where James grew up.

"I think championships are championships, and you can’t look at it as saying, ‘Well, if I would have did it somewhere else, it would have been sweeter,’ " he replied. "Because, I mean, it’s a championship. A lot of people don’t get there.”

If nothing about the announcement surprised Wade, that last part should qualify as news. He’d never admit viewing Bosh and even James as sidekicks — officially they’re equals, for the moment anyway — but it’s telling that they wound up coming to him. Plus, Wade was the man in Miami when the Heat won their first title, though he had plenty of help from Shaquille O’Neal.

Deferring to Wade at crunch time was not only smart — the kid was just hitting his stride — it made Shaq look like an even bigger man. Contrast that with James, who brings the same outsized ego but zero championships to the table. There will never be enough credit to go around.

Russian billionaire and new Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov might not be an NBA insider yet, but he already knows how the game is played off the court. Getting in what is among the first of a thousand expected digs at the move, he predicted even before the announcement that joining the bona fide All-Stars awaiting James in Miami would "diminish his brand."

Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was more pointed.

"Come on, an hour long? OK, it takes 15 seconds to say, ‘I’ve decided to stay in Cleveland.’ But we’ve got another 59 minutes and 45 seconds to, what, promote LeBron James? As if," Van Gundy said, "we don’t do that enough."

James said that he’ll always consider Akron home, which is convenient, since he also has its area code, 330, tattooed on another part of his hide. But outside his house, he’s likely to be viewed with the same kind of disdain that northeast Ohioans reserve for Art Modell, the NFL owner who ripped the Browns franchise out of Cleveland and ran all the way to Baltimore with it.

"You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal," Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said in an open letter to fans on the team’s website.

Maybe it hurts more because James is one of their own, maybe the best athlete most of them will see, and now even he doesn’t want to be there.

Some king he turned out to be.

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