The NBA is dead. LeBron James killed it.
So now we know why he was called The Chosen One.
Oh, the games will go on. But the NBA is dead to you, me and anybody who values competition over celebrity.
A pro basketball league we knew and loved died on July 8, 2010, live on an ESPN telecast. RIP, NBA. Its last breath and final words as a legitimate sport were uttered when schlockaster Jim Gray turned to James and asked, "Are you still a nailbiter?"
America didn't know whether to be sick to its stomach or let out a belly laugh.
The joke was on everybody, including good people with crushed hearts in Cleveland, a proud sports network James played for the fool and anybody who naively thinks the NBA still cares about integrity.
The quest for the NBA championship has been reduced from an open competition to a private party. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James sit laughing behind a red velvet rope in Miami. The rest of us chumps are witnesses to their egos at play, while we sip on a $7.95 beer from the concession stand.
This is the personality-driven league David Stern wanted. Well, the players now own you, Mr. Commissioner. Considering how little power Stern wields, he should stop worrying about the NBA dress code and just put on a clown suit.
How long can Colorado hold its breath without the Rocky Mountains turning blue? Denver forward Carmelo Anthony, given the choice between signing a $65 million contract extension from his current employer or letting the league grovel at his sneakers next summer, has a blueprint on how to turn Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke as stark, raving mad as Cleveland's Dan "All-Caps Angry" Gilbert.
Maybe John Wooden escaped to heaven at the right time, because the rules of basketball he taught have been shredded. By declaring a championship can be won with a Big Three and nine guys off the street, the Heat promotes the cynical theory that ideals such as hitting the boards, in-your-face defense and gritty role players no longer count for much.
By signing with Miami, a man who wants to be King took the easy way out. Fine. It seems like the trendy American way to go in a country that has lost its mojo.
In a quest for a championship, don't tell me Michael Jordan would have looked for a soft spot to land in the South Beach sand. Now we know why James has been so fond of wearing his prized New York Yankees baseball cap. It was a tribute to George Steinbrenner, who believed any ring worth earning on the field of play is easier obtained by purchasing through free-agent brokers.
When the subject is hoops, Nuggets coach George Karl and I argue about almost everything. So what does it say when we both agree it's time to be very suspicious of a broken NBA system that has made a farce of team-building?
Whether you are old enough to remember reading about Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in the newspaper or so young as to be fed your basketball info with tweets from a chirping big bird named Bosh, you know something has gone way-out-of-whack wrong with sports when Ohioans burn James jerseys in the street.
Buried within an e-mail born of the same madness, something that rang true appeared from the foam of Gilbert's mouth, when the irate Cavs owner suggested: "Some people think they should go to heaven but not have to die to get there. Sorry, but that's not how it works."
NBA owners were ready to rumble with players over serious issues in the next collective bargaining agreement long before James, Wade and Bosh played executives from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles like cheap pawns in a game that smelled suspiciously like a prank by fraternity brothers from the start.
When the Heat tries to bribe Minnesota to take Michael Beasley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, in order for Miami president Pat Riley to scrape together nickels to hire a center, the rules governing the league have stopped making sense.
The picture is slowly coming into focus. Before the NBA can be reborn as something worth loving again, it had to die. Sorry, but that's how it works. Thanks, LeBron. We needed this pain.
With labor strife looming in 2011, here's a heartfelt plea to Kroenke in Denver and his fellow league owners:
Shut down this league and the charade it has become.
And don't bring the NBA back until somebody other than King James is in charge