The Heat? LBJ should've picked Knicks

LeBron James just took his career south, literally and figuratively. He is signing with Pat Riley's Miami Heat, and no, it was not the best option on the free-agent board.

If he was going to leave Cleveland -- and leave it LeBron James did in a staggering prime-time way -- the New York Knicks always made the most sense.

He would've won a couple of championships here with Amare Stoudemire and the third major piece the Knicks would've landed with LeBron in the fold, that piece arriving in the form of Carmelo Anthony or Tony Parker between now and next July.

Those titles would've ended a Knicks drought of biblical proportions, and they would've belonged to the King and the King alone, just like the 1994 Stanley Cup was Mark Messier's for keeps.

The titles James will win in Miami? (And yes, he'll win two or three.)

They'll belong to Dwyane Wade first, LeBron James second. And oh yeah, ol' Coach Riles will be sure to grab his own share of credit -- from the front office or the sideline -- to close the legacy gap between his chair and Phil Jackson's.

"I feel like it's going to give me the best opportunity to win," James said of his Miami decision during his televised announcement at the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., "and to win in multiple years."

Way back when, at the start of all this free-agent madness, James arrived in Madison Square Garden and delivered the huddled midtown masses a pot of fool's gold. On the subject of his future liberation from his Cavaliers contract, James said, "You have to stay open-minded if you're a Knicks fan."

LeBron just closed those open New York minds with the full force of a rim-rattling dunk, and worse yet, did it from a location one bounce pass away from the Knicks' practice facility. He woke up Thursday morning to a South Beach epiphany, a vision confirmed in a talk with his mom.

The Knicks knew this was coming, too. During an afternoon Garden news conference to formally introduce Stoudemire, Mike D'Antoni proved why he shouldn't end his pursuit of an NBA title to begin training for the World Series of Poker.

Reports said the Knicks coach was holding a losing hand, and his body language did nothing to suggest he had a King up his sleeve.

D'Antoni was hurting, and you would've been, too. James had the stomach to leave his hometown team, and still the Knicks couldn't get him. In Gotham, that makes LeBron's decision sting that much more.

D'Antoni was supposed to seduce James with all their mutual Team USA love, and he was left to talk more about the small forward who ultimately got away rather than the power forward who did not.

"I would be shocked if he doesn't come here," D'Antoni said of James. "That's not the first time I've been shocked in my life."

D'Antoni was on a flight to Vegas during LeBron's ESPN show, traveling there to watch the Knicks' summer league team at work. Before he left, the coach had the look and sound of a season-ticket holder waiting two years for LeBron, only to hear he'd likely land on the wrong side of a Heat-Knicks series to be named later.

James in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? "It's a really good team," D'Antoni said. "It will set a high bar for the Eastern Conference, and we'll chase it."

Only the Knicks won't be the lone chasers here. LeBron? He'll be chasing something in Miami he'll never catch -- Wade himself.

Wade's already won a championship for Riley, who's dusting off the old playbook as we speak. If James happened to be watching Michael Wilbon's interview of Wade and Bosh on Wednesday, he discovered in a hurry what the rest of the league already knew.

Wade is the host down there, and everyone else is a guest.

James can win three titles in Miami, and he'll need to live with the fact that Wade will have won four. There's an A-Rod-Jeter thing at work here that makes little sense.

Alex Rodriguez was desperate enough to escape Texas and finally win that he surrendered his cherished shortstop position and agreed to join Derek Jeter while four behind on the championship scoreboard, guaranteeing he'd never match Jeter's jewelry.

LeBron could've had Stoudemire in New York, with either Anthony or Parker on the way, and a wide-open landscape with no resident Wades, no titles since 1973, and no doubt who would be the ringmaster when the Knicks finished first.

"We tried to show him the path to winning a championship," D'Antoni said of last Thursday's meeting with LeBron, "and I thought he was in agreement."

D'Antoni thought wrong. The Knicks have played this James game the way they've played most of their games for the last nine seasons -- from behind. As their hour of reckoning approached, they could only hope a late surge in the polls would swing the vote.

"What we're all hoping for now," said one source connected to the Knicks' camp, "is Dewey Defeats Truman, The Sequel."

Dewey won the second time around.

"We are disappointed that LeBron James did not pick the New York Knicks," team president Donnie Walsh said in a statement, "but we respect his decision."

James took less money -- a lot -- to leave the Cavaliers, and was rewarded with the images of fellow Ohioans burning his jersey in the street.

"I wanted to do was best for LeBron James," James said, and he'd earned the right. People kept talking about the economic impact of a James exit on Cleveland, the region and the franchise, but it wasn't a fair burden to drop onto the Atlas-like shoulders of a ballplayer, even one who grew up in Akron.

LeBron should've gone where he believed he can win titles, the most meaningful titles to his assumed goal of being the greatest player of all time.

"I did think New York was the perfect place for LeBron the whole way," Walsh said.

Perfect? New York wasn't anyone's idea of perfect. But winning two titles with the Knicks would've meant more to James' legacy, and his quest for basketball immortality, than winning three or four on Dwyane Wade's court.

So LeBron made his choice. Instead of being the undisputed ringmaster in the Canyon of Heroes, he decided to be a tall house guest on a sunny South Florida beach.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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