If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Literally, in the sad, pathetic case of LeBron James.

James, the mercurial star who jumped to the Miami Heat a couple weeks ago, has already, at age 25, tarnished his legacy in an irreparable nature.

Even if James manages to win an NBA title as part of the Heat’s new triumvirate of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he’s a loser.

The kid, by fleeing Cleveland, has put himself in a lose-lose situation.

Never will his legacy shine as brightly as those of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan. Not even close.

Especially not when two of those—Magic and Jordan—have already come out publicly as saying that they would never have dreamed of joining their rivals simply to form a powerhouse team.

“I came out of college wanting to beat Larry Bird,” Johnson said of his plunge into the NBA after his sophomore year in 1979, when his MSU Spartans beat Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores for the NCAA National Championship.

And thus was born an individual rivalry that injected the NBA with much-needed sizzle for a decade, when by that time Jordan was about to start winning championships—with a Bulls team that he paid his dues with.

Magic never once considered phoning Bird, suggesting a truce and a partnership.

Jordan, for all the heartbreak he suffered as a Bull trying to get past the Detroit Pistons in the late-1980s, didn’t bail on the Windy City.

It would have been unthinkable.

What if Coke and Pepsi threw down their arms and teamed to form an uber-cola?

LeBron James is taking what he thinks is a shortcut to greatness. He’s 25 but in a hurry, apparently. He’s been led to believe, by someone, that he won’t be considered truly great unless he wins the brass ring.

But James is too young, immature, and just plain short on brains to realize that by going to the Heat, he’s done the exact opposite.

Anything LeBron James wins with the Miami Heat—and it’s not fait accompli that he gets his championship, by the way—will be tarnished. It will be sneered at and derided.

James turned down more money to stay with his hometown Cavaliers, and went to the Heat instead.

It was a cowardly act.

James’s Cavs surprisingly made the NBA Finals in 2007. They were swept away by the San Antonio Spurs, but making it was a high accomplishment. The last two seasons have ended in bitter disappointment in Cleveland—tons of regular season wins but playoff flameouts.

James’s body language was abhorrent in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs when things began to go sideways for his Cavaliers. He has a “pouting gene” that the aforementioned superstars, plus many others who never won titles (John Stockton, Karl Malone, et al), never possessed.

The only glares and sour looks Magic or Bird or Isiah or Jordan had were reserved for the officials or for their opponents—not for their own teammates or their coach. And they certainly never sandbagged it on the court, as James did.

James’s absconding to Miami was an act of cowardice because he didn’t have it inside of him to stick it out in Cleveland. His impatience is only matched by his gutlessness.

James had an opportunity to never turn his back on the folks in northern Ohio, and to see the journey to an NBA Championship all the way through. He had the chance to be a genuine hero, and to be placed shoulder-to-shoulder with other true NBA greats.

LeBron James can’t hold the jock straps of any of the superstars who won championships in the 1980s and 1990s. His heart is infinitely smaller. His fortitude is laughable.

James can’t win by playing for the Heat. If he never wins a championship, that speaks for itself. But even if the Heat do manage a title, whose titles will they be?

The Lakers’ titles were Magic’s first, then closely followed by Kareem, Worthy, and the rest.

The Celtics’ championships were Bird’s first, without question—despite the Hall of Famers he played with.

Same with Isiah and the Pistons.

Certainly the same with Jordan and the Bulls—all six times.

But LeBron James and the Miami Heat?

You don’t think that the Heat is still Wade’s team?

Perhaps none of this is important to James—he couldn’t care less about journeys or loyalty or missions. His Ohio roots mean nothing to him. He wants his ring and he wants it now. He thinks it cements his legacy as an NBA great.

This is where it gets pathetic, because James couldn’t be further from reality by holding this misguided viewpoint.

LeBron James can win as many championships as his calculated plan can muster.

But never can he be held to the same idyllic reverence as those champions who preceded him. For they took the truest, most proper route to greatness—a route filled with pride, guts, honor and distinction.

James is taking a short cut, and all he’ll find is a dead end when it comes to his legacy.

Shame on him.

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