LeBron James brought this on himself.
The ridicule, the scorn, the unabashed delight seemingly everyone outside of South Beach is taking in his failure to win the NBA title — it's all on him.
When you make a spectacle of yourself and give the impression you're above everyone else, as James did with his shockingly tone-deaf "Decision," you have to back it up. Not only did James not live up to the hype he predicted, his ineffectiveness when it mattered most showed that his supporting cast in Cleveland might not have been the real problem.
"I think it all comes down to the play," said Steve Rosner, the co-founder of 16W Marketing. "He really did not play well in this final series. Everyone started reading articles comparing him to the greatest players in the game. Really, besides having some individual honors, he hasn't put his stamp on the game of basketball."
Harsh, but hard to argue with when the title bestowed on James and Co. last summer wound up belonging to someone else.
There is no question James is a spectacular talent, a once-in-a-generation player who can do things that defy both the imagination and the laws of physics. His back-to-back MVP awards in 2009 and 2010 were well-deserved, and with 17,362 points in his first eight seasons, he likely will be among the NBA's all-time leading scorers by the time his career ends.
Statistics have little weight without a championship to back them up, though, and James is now 0 for 2 in the NBA finals.
Accused of quitting in last year's playoffs with Cleveland, James responded with a ferocity this year, dragging the Miami Heat through the early rounds. He'd become a national pariah after abandoning his beleaguered hometown in humiliating fashion, and he played like a man who knew the only way to salvage his reputation was with a title.
But when the games were on the line against the Dallas Mavericks, James disappeared. He managed just 18 points in the fourth quarter of the six-game series, and his silence was a major factor in why the Mavericks were able to rally again and again.
In the cardinal sin of sports, he didn't seem to want it nearly as badly as Dirk Nowitzki, who played with a torn tendon in his finger and a 101-degree fever. Or Jason Kidd, who showed no regard for his 38-year-old body as he repeatedly dived for loose balls. Or even James' own teammate, Dwyane Wade, who scored a team-high 23 in Game 5 despite a bruised hip so painful it had him in the locker room twice for treatment.
"Sometimes you got it, sometimes you don't," James said. "And that was this case in this series. I was able to do things in the last two series to help us win ballgames. Wasn't able to do that in this series."
Lesser talents can get away with saying that — not that they ever would. But James made the move to Miami for the sole purpose of winning NBA titles, and that dismissive arrogance is exactly why fans rooted so hard against him and his buddies. And they still don't get it, with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra having the audacity to talk about the "sacrifice" James made in coming to Miami.
Former NFL player Pat Tillman giving up his life for his country, that's a sacrifice. Giving up a few million — pocket change for someone who earned an estimated $48 million last year — to be part of the best team money can buy doesn't compare.
Look, James had every right to leave Cleveland. The days of a star staying with one team for his entire career are long gone, and it had to have been exhausting to be expected to revive a struggling Rust Belt city before his 25th birthday.
But as Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert gloated Sunday night, there are no shortcuts, in life or the NBA.
Nowitzki spurned last summer's free agent-palooza to stay with the aging Mavericks — taking less money to do so — and was rewarded with a title. James turned his back on the city that revered him for what was essentially an All-Star team, only to discover that talent alone doesn't win championships, and the best team on paper is not always the one left holding the trophy.
"This is one of the unique teams in NBA history. Because it wasn't about high-flying star power," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Come on, how often do we have to hear about the LeBron James reality show and what he is or isn't doing? When are people going to talk about the purity of our game and what these guys accomplished? That's what's special."
Watching James go home empty-handed made millions of fans in and outside of Cleveland feel better. But it won't dim the spotlight on James and his sidekicks, or lessen the pressure.
If anything, the scrutiny only will get worse, as people start asking not when James will win a title, but whether he can.
AP National Writer Nancy Armour can be reached at narmour(at)ap.org or follow her at http://twitter.com/nrarmour