Greg Cote

Greg Cote: LeBron James has made career of wielding his power since high school

In this Nov. 2, 2015, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt pats LeBron James on the chest at the end of a game against the host Philadelphia 76ers. Blatt was fired Friday, Jan. 22, 2015, despite leading the team to the NBA Finals last season and an Eastern Conference-best 30-11 record this season.
In this Nov. 2, 2015, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt pats LeBron James on the chest at the end of a game against the host Philadelphia 76ers. Blatt was fired Friday, Jan. 22, 2015, despite leading the team to the NBA Finals last season and an Eastern Conference-best 30-11 record this season. AP

Who believes LeBron James? Anybody? Show of hands, please.

Who believes he had zero to do with the Cleveland Cavaliers firing coach David Blatt last week despite a conference-leading 30-11 record.

Who believes his denial of this week’s report that James also lobbied to get Heat coach Erik Spoelstra replaced during his Miami years.

Who believes that LeBron is unfairly “misconstrued” (his word) as a power-hungry, coach-killing control freak?

Truth is not always black or white, no. There can be nuance. Shades of gray.

The problem with LeBron playing a falsely accused victim here is that his entire public life and actions have been about power and control. That is the only him we know.

LeBron James is 31 now, and for half of his life, since he was 16 and a high school wunderkind in Akron, Ohio, he has been rising to power, to being the biggest thing in the NBA — rivaled only by Michael Jordan himself in the history of his sport.

ESPN used to televise LeBron’s prep games, which were moved to a larger arena to accommodate ticket demand. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, trumpeted by the headline, THE CHOSEN ONE, at an age when most boys aren’t even shaving yet.

He liked that glorious nickname, evidently, judging by the tattoo in large block letters you now see across his upper back. CHOSEN 1, it reads.

It might not even be his most audacious nickname, or favorite. KING JAMES he rather likes, too. Who can forget the Nike ad in which LeBron is luxuriating on a gold-gilded, red velvet throne guarded by three lions?

He came into the NBA drenched in entitlement, always the biggest thing on his team, always bigger than whoever his head coach happened to be.

That finally changed in Miami, when LeBron learned he wasn’t bigger than Pat Riley, who would not betray Spoelstra to placate LeBron, and who would not bend organizational rules by allowing LeBron’s entourage greater access.

 
LeBron James and coach Erik Spoelstra are shown during James' first season with the Heat in 2010. PEDRO PORTAL / pportal@elnuevoherald.com

That power struggle is a big part of why LeBron went back to Cleveland after four years in Miami — a principled but Pyrrhic victory for Riley.

James on Wednesday addressed his coach-killer reputation by saying, “I think it does suck that people want to throw my name in the dirt. I’ve never, in my time since I picked up a basketball, undermined a coach.”

I guess the word “undermined” is open to interpretation. LeBron is used to getting his way, put it that way.

Last season, his first back in Cleveland and the first for the new coach Blatt, LeBron suddenly change his position and role in the offense. Reporters asked if he’d consulted Blatt for approval.

“I don’t have to consult him,” answered LeBron. “I’m at the point of my career where I don’t have to ask.”

Brian Windhorst, LeBron’s childhood friend-turned-NBA basketball writer for ESPN, couldn’t even deny the obvious.

“Yes, LeBron has undermined coaches before,” Windhorst said on air this week. “That’s absolutely a fact. That’s a fair statement.”

That in turn made fertile ground for a report this week that Miami Heat limited partner (minority owner) Raanan Katz said that James “made it clear that he wanted to dump head coach Erik Spoelstra” while in Miami.

It was in a Tuesday night interview with respected international basketball journalist David Pick on an Israeli sports-talk radio station, first reported here by Bleacher Report.

Katz has since denied he said that, suggesting the truth was lost in the interview’s translation from Hebrew to English. The Heat also denies James ever lobbied to get Spoelstra fired.

LeBron on Wednesday said of Katz’s supposed claim:

“I don’t know who that is. I was there for four years and I never met him.”

Hmm. Windhorst said he knows James knew Katz because, “I would see him talking to him occasionally at games.”

It must be noted that Katz once was a part owner of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, which was coached by his friend Blatt. So Katz’s animus against James would be clear if he believed James orchestrated Blatt’s firing last week.

The larger point is that it’s tough to believe that James is a complete innocent in the Blatt firing or that what Katz reportedly said is baseless when LeBron has made a career of accumulating and exercising power.

Now here’s the funny part.

The Chosen One never became an NBA champion until he chose the right one, Dwyane Wade in Miami, as a playing partner.

Now, with Steph Curry’s Golden State and the seat of power clearly situated out west, it seems unlikely James will be able to add to the two titles he won with the Heat.

This is the first season of King James’ dethroning. The first season he is not the best player in the league by acclamation. The first season we can say he is past his prime without much argument.

Yes, the superstar whose career currency has been control has become increasingly powerless to deliver Cleveland the championship he promised.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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