King James left the playoffs as a loser

I’m a winner, King James proclaimed. So, there you go. That’s his reason for rushing out of the conference finals without so much as a nod to Dwight Howard(notes) and the Orlando Magic. That’s his reason for marching to the bus and letting the Cleveland Cavaliers’ spare parts take care of his responsibilities in the interview room.

Funny, but James stayed on the court to make sure the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks paid respect to him. As it turns out, there’s one thing allowed to happen at the end of a playoff series: Everyone bows down and kisses the King’s ring. Only, LeBron doesn’t have a ring. He’s never won a game in the NBA Finals.

So, yes, maybe they just have to kiss his feet.

“It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that,” James said.

No, nothing like that. Yes, James cares so much that it isn’t possible to be gracious and humbled.

You know me, he told the reporters in Cleveland on Sunday. I’m a competitor. “If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them,” James said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to go over and shake somebody’s hand.”

Here’s the question: Who has the guts to tell him that he sounds like an immature, self-absorbed brat?

Here’s the problem for the Cavaliers and James: No one.

It won’t be Cleveland Cavaliers ownership, front office and coaches. It won’t be the NBA. It won’t be Nike. And it sure won’t be those childhood sycophants who surround James and tell everyone what a brilliant businessman LeBron is because they can answer the phone when corporations call for a famous pitchman.

LeBron doesn’t want to win more than Michael Jordan did, but Jordan could stop and shake a winner’s hand. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird could, too. Julius Erving did. Kobe Bryant(notes). Isiah Thomas led a walkout after losing to the Chicago Bulls after winning two NBA titles, but Joe Dumars never followed him. He stayed and shook Jordan’s hand, the way Jordan had always shook his when the Pistons had beaten him.

“M.J. had stopped, shook my hand and hugged me three straight years that we had beaten them in the playoffs,” Dumars once told me. “There was no way I was walking off the court without shaking the Bulls’ hands.”

Within the Cavs, someone needed to tell James that he embarrassed himself and the franchise, but that won’t happen. They’re too scared of him. Most league executives with knowledge of Cleveland’s operation believe it’s far more of an ownership issue, than basketball operations.

If general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Brown privately disdain the ridiculous posing for pictures that James started with his teammates on a 13-game winning streak, the owner is believed to see the foolishness as a marketing dream.

Someone should’ve told James that the pregame Polaroid act was belittling and beneath a championship contender, but it never happened.

All season, the Cavaliers acted too entitled, too arrogant for a team that’s won nothing. They ran out demanding that Mo Williams(notes) be made an All-Star, when the truth bore itself out in the playoffs: Cleveland has one All-Star. Nevertheless, Williams still embarrassed the Cavs with foolish proclamations and guarantees his middling talent couldn’t deliver.

“If you believe in karma with that nonsense,” one Western Conference executive said, “then Cleveland got what was coming to them.”

The Cavaliers are terrified of James. When you’re around them, it’s sometimes embarrassing to watch the way they tip-toe and grovel with him. In their defense, that’s how James wants it. As a childhood prodigy, that’s all LeBron’s ever known. The Cavs are at his mercy until he becomes a free agent in July of 2010, and that isn’t going to change. There’s no chance that he signs an extension this summer, because that would be the end of the drama, the intrigue and LeBron James(notes) isn’t letting that go away.

Now, Ferry goes back to the phones and starts work on surrounding James with championship talent. Cleveland is sure to revisit the Shaquille O’Neal(notes) talks with the Phoenix Suns, and James and his associates will send out word that, hey, we’ll go to New York unless the Cavs deliver him his title. Well, they’ve reached the NBA Finals and had the best record in the NBA within the past three seasons, so they must have surrounded James with something that works there.

Nevertheless, James distanced himself in losing again, after a season in which he sold himself as all for one, and one for all. James had been an MVP until the very final moments of the basketball season, and then, he embarrassed himself and acted like a petulant kid. In a world where everyone in his life is too fearful or too dependent, LeBron James goes into the summer believing his own nonsense that he walked out of this season a winner.

As usual, there’s no one to tell him.

Except maybe now, Kobe’s puppet.