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This decision puts the Heat on LeBron

For two years now LeBron James has, calculatingly and painstakingly, milked this seemingly endless free agency like it was the herd at Meadow Gold.

And, then, for 27 minutes of the most contrived TV you’re likely to endure, he and his confederates at ESPN squeezed their LeBron-a-thon well past the point of ridiculousness yesterday.

What we have learned in this molasses-paced crawl to "The Decision" is that James is going to the Miami Heat and he knows drama and intrigue well enough to twist the NBA and many of America’s sports fans around his finger with them.

What we have yet to discover is: Can he deliver NBA championships in his new surroundings?

If he’s worthy of a scintilla of the hype, he’ll stack some championship rings on that finger.

"Winning," he said yesterday, "is a huge thing for me."

Well, the expectation of winning just got taller than those 30-foot billboards that implored him to settle in some of the cities that courted him. Miami Heat, indeed.

It will, for example, be a whole lot easier to explain to the folks he left behind in his native Ohio why he skipped out if he has the hardware to point to.

Pity the long-suffering fans along Lake Erie for whom this year was already painfully remembered as the 50th anniversary of the trade of Rocky Colavito and the "curse" it spawned. Colavito, at least, was forced to take leave in his home-run-hitting prime by general manager Frank Lane’s ill-fated trade.

James, however, bolted on his own, cruelly turning it into a national spectacle, his "loyalty" tattoo well covered.

If this decision was really about the "best opportunity to win," as James maintained yesterday, it will be validated by a lineup of photos with David Stern handing over the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in coming years.

Because it sure looked like the best path to the championship was through the Chicago Loop, where Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and a ready-made team were waiting.

But then, hovering over everything, there was also that statue outside the United Center, a daily reminder of the resident expectations. Maybe "being like Mike" — and the six championships Michael Jordan helped produce — was more than James was up for.

If James wanted to really set himself and the "brand" he has so painstakingly burnished these last few weeks, there was New York and all that can come with winning there. Apparently, there being no appetite for taking a bite out of the Big Apple, Greenwich, Conn., scene of yesterday’s announcement, was as close as he cared to go.

So, by process of elimination, King James is on his way to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, which might have been how it was all orchestrated for quite a while. With an assist from Pat Riley, you’d suspect.

But make no mistake, the one they call the "Chosen One" has scripted this from beginning to end. Now we see if he can author the championships needed to punctuate his legacy.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com


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