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The Decision casts "The King" in a better light than expected

"This fall I'm going to take my talents to South Beach." Photo: Ed Bark

"The King" finally made The Decision seconds before 8:28 p.m. Thursday, informing the world on an exclusive ESPN special that he'll be joining buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat next season.

Now comes "The Derision," which started near the end of The Decision when ESPN showed brief footage of a LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers jersey being burned in the city he's forsaking.

In truth, though, James did a decent job of explaining himself in spite of all the pomp, ceremony and overall ESPN pomposity. He first broke the news to the interviewer he selected, veteran sports reporter Jim Gray, while they sat face to face in a small gymnasium at the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Conn. ESPN's Michael Wilbon later interviewed James from afar while colleague Stuart Scott hopefully toweled off after spurting stuff such as, "Coming up, The King will choose his next court." Or, if you prefer, "You are now looking live at The King, LeBron James."

James came off more as a humble prince. His basic talking points went like this:

***In the end, he took his mother's advice to make himself happy above all else.

***He sacrificed what would have been substantially more money to stay in Cleveland because he wanted to pursue "the best opportunity to win now and into the future also."

***He pledged to share and share alike with his two new big-name teammates because "you become a superstar individually, but you become a champion as a team."

***And he feels "awful that I'm leaving. And I feel even worse that I wasn't able to bring an NBA championship to that city, because I know they've been wanting it a long time."

At least that's what he said. And for a 25-year-old with no college education, he said it quite well. Bosh comes off like a punk and Wade is an ever-smooth salesman of cell phones in tandem with foil Charles Barkley. But James seems like their Daddy, a mature-beyond-his-years Sears kinda guy whose outwardly indulgent one-hour ESPN special donated all money from ad sales to five designated Boys and Girls Clubs, including the one in James' hometown of Akron, Ohio.

That said, the new and "exciting conglomerate" in Miami, as Wilborn so well put it, will be by far the most targeted team in the NBA next season. Fans will jam-pack all 41 of their road games, hoping to see the Heat and its self-indulgent superstars torched by their mostly plebeian hometown Fives. Even Kobe Bryant gets to wear the white hat now. Only his defending champion Lakers, it seems, stand in the way of The King, D-Wade, just plain Bosh and whatever assortment of minimum wage handymen they're surrounded with to fill out the roster.

It obviously won't be easy for Miami, though. Fans around the league used to watch James in awe. Now they'll likely be booing everything they think he stands for. The King's image at least temporarily has gone from Arthur to Henry VIII. And Dirk Nowitzki is more than ever the loyal Sir Galahad, still valiantly seeking a ring while remaining true to his subjects.

Think about it, though. Would anyone here or elsewhere have blamed Nowitzki for leaving the Mavericks after all the post-season trauma his teams have experienced? I doubt it.

Should everyone except the fickle fans of the Heat castigate James for leaving Cleveland after carrying the previously woeful Cavs on his back for seven seasons?

"I tried to take them places where they have never been before," James somewhat immodestly told Wilborn. He hopes at least some fans will remember his contributions while the city where he became a star now is left with crappy teams in baseball, football and basketball.

I didn't expect to be defending James -- to a degree at least. And I think he would have been wiser to sign with the heartland Chicago Bulls, who have both a winning tradition and more than ample supporting talent.

But after watching him Thursday night on ESPN, I find it impossible to despise James as some kind of uncaring, disloyal carpetbagger who epitomizes today's insidious breed of mercenary athlete.

The guy basically just wants to win. His ego demands no less, it's good for the LeBron James brand and he'd like to do it with his two best NBA pals.

"I can't say it was always in my plans, 'cause I never thought it was possible," James said of teaming with Wade and Bosh.

But now it's a reality, and it's going to make the NBA super-interesting next season. It'll be fun rooting for the Heat's downfall, with the boos ringing loudest in Cleveland, Chicago and New York. And as long as no one gets hurt, I'm all for it.

By the way, do you think the Mavs wouldn't have loved to have LeBron and Dirk in the same uniform? North Texas would have been happy to let everyone else eat cake, including Cleveland.

Meanwhile, we can thank our lucky stars that we at least still have the noble Nowitzki. Now if we could just get a few good soldiers of fortune to join him.