LeBron James, go on with your bad self
LOS ANGELES -- Every villain needs a maturation process to reach his full potential.
For LeBron James, it can't come fast enough. Particularly after a 111-105 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers halted the Heat's road-game winning streak at 13.
Twenty hours after mocking his former team's 55-point humiliation with words about karma and God watching everything, James stood at his locker preparing to explain that tweet:
"Karma is a b----.., Gets you every time. It's not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!"
Knowing he was going to be asked about basking in the Cavaliers' humiliation, LeBron should have owned it.
He should have said they'd hated him -- the players' refusal to shake hands in Cleveland, the owner's crazy post-Decision screed with its own talk of karma -- and he was therefore reveling in their struggles.
He should have embraced the role that's fueled his phenomenal play this season. He should have shown he's listening to his own inner-villain voice and moving away from letting the sycophants surrounding him impact any more of his decision-making.
Instead, LeBron stood, smiled warmly and, when a reporter crowding around him accidentally bumped LeBron's arm, apologized quickly and profusely.
Then he got to it. Without anything that sounded like an ounce of candor.
First, LeBron said the tweet was being over-scrutinized.
"I don't think there was no intent at all," he said. "I think everyone looks into everything that I say. And everybody looked too far into it. But there wasn't no intent at all."
Then he said it wasn't directed at all toward the Cavaliers organization.
Then he said it was especially not a shot at the Cleveland players. Which means it was directed at someone. Like, maybe, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert?
"Like I said, it wasn't no hit at that franchise, no hit at that team," LeBron said. "Especially those players. At all."
Yep. Dan Gilbert.
Then LeBron went for the big one:
That the tweet was just how he was feeling in the moment. Followed directly by a claim it wasn't his idea.
"It was just how I was feeling at the time," he said. "It wasn't even a comment from me. It was someone who sent it to me and I sent it out. But like I said, it wasn't toward that team. It definitely wasn't a good showing by that team last night, and I know they wish they would have played better, but nothing towards them."
Today, LeBron is going to be lit up for again not owning his own words (remember not knowing what "contraction" meant?) and insulting the intelligence of most everyone paying attention.
But the deeper question behind his mocking and mean-spirited tweet and his next-day tap dance of an explanation is this:
Does LeBron James want to be a master villain with a bright future or a child villain not up to the task?
A master villain piques his opponents, controls the conversation, owns his infamy and is fueled by the resulting hate -- and turns it all into championships.
A child villain surrounds himself with sycophants, believes the wrong people when they tell him he's a victim, lets the adulation cloud his thinking and uses his rage one moment and then disowns it the next.
What does LeBron mean by someone sent it to him? E-mail? Text message? Tweet? No way to know, because a member of the Miami Heat's public relations staff explained that one more Twitter question would end the interview.
Is it possible a friend or fan -- a hanger-on or associate -- expressed exactly what LeBron was feeling and The King decided to share it with his subjects?
But it's time for LeBron to mature into adulthood and start thinking for himself. Michael Corleone had one consigliere he trusted, and in "The Godfather II," at his darkest moment, he put that guy in the dark in order to protect them both.
That meant trusting his gut and no one else's.
Darth Vader wasn't hopping around the galaxy listening to the Jedi-wannabes talking about how great an idea it would be for Darth to try to kill the Emperor on his own.
LeBron needs in a similar way to keep his own counsel.
It's also possible LeBron tweeted the comment of his own singular accord. Because he felt it deep inside himself and, mean-spirited as it was, you gotta be who you gotta be. And then the next day, he got a lot of "don't let them get you downs" from those same friends, associates, sycophants and hangers-on.
It's time for The King to rule his own kingdom.
If it was his tweet and his words, he should have owned it Wednesday.
If it wasn't, they never should have hit his Twitter page. And when they did, he should have owned it Wednesday.
LeBron James is a master talent who's found a real on-court power in embracing this villainy -- a kind of villainy both put upon him and brought on himself.
Now, it's time for The Chosen One to evolve to his next best basketball self, his next level of basketball bad guy.
He needs to embrace a whole new learning curve -- what coach Erik Spoelstra would call "the process" -- so these latest are-you-kidding-me moments stop being about LeBron's cowardice and lack of respect for everyone else's intelligence and start being about his mettle.
November was about LeBron learning to play with his new teammates. December was having figured it out and taking advantage in spectacular fashion.
So far, January has been about embracing the fact he can be great and the so-called bad guy at the same time. That one can feed the other.
That means no more talk about not knowing what contraction was. Or mean-spirited tweets he won't stand by the next day. Or listening to the wrong people.
Like all villains, LeBron is mostly alone in this thing. It is him and his teammates. Period.
Not LeBron and his marketing company. Not LeBron and his sponsors. Not LeBron and his childhood friends. Not LeBron and his Twitter followers. Not LeBron and the dude at the bar telling him how he's so great and everyone who hates him is wrong and damn Cleveland sucks and dude you kick their asses.
Not if he wants to win, and win some more, for a long time.
Time for LeBron to embrace this part of himself: the solitary part.
If he feels the burn when Cleveland gets humiliated by 55 points and he needs to point it out, then point it out and own it. More hate will follow. Embrace that, too.
Accepting life as the villain isn't a yes-today, no-tomorrow proposition.
You don't call out Cleveland in such loathsome fashion one day and try to back off it the next. Not if you want to avoid nights like Wednesday's, when the Clippers beat the Heat.
There is an edge that can be lost in embracing a vision of oneself on Tuesday and distancing yourself from it Wednesday.
Either you're in or you're out.
It's time for LeBron to be in, the whole way, from now until he lifts that trophy.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter.