The Small Puerto Rican's first victim...

In a cave deep within a mountain range on the far side of the world, The Small Puerto Rican reclines in his chair and puffs on a cigar. As the smoke rings drift upward lazily toward the ceiling, The Small Puerto Rican closes his eyes and allows himself a brief moment of reflection.

It hadn’t been difficult. Not for the Puerto Rican, who was well-trained in the art of psychological warfare.

The Puerto Rican had known the Los Angeles men were a prideful and angry bunch. He knew their minds were weak. He knew he could break them. And break them he did, almost immediately.

He closes his eyes and he recalls the man called Artest succumbing quickly and without resistance to the Puerto Rican’s will. It had required simply the execution of pick-and-roll strategy that he had practiced for hours with the German, so weak was Artest! And what’s more, it resulted in a one-game forced absence. The Puerto Rican never laughs, but he was deeply amused by this recollection.

Of course, the conquer of Artest was easy and took just one game. His much-larger ally, Bynum, was more difficult to destroy. It took almost a full four games before the Puerto Rican finally won, but victory was sweet. And although Dallas had already secured the victory in the series, The Puerto Rican had beaten Bynum into submission, exposing his true colors — and demonstrated again his formidable and terrifying abilities.

But he had been almost too successful. The public had surely noticed his utter vanquishing of two prominent Los Angeles players. If his powers were to become widely known, it would render them entirely useless. So he hides. And he waits. And when an ESPN TV show wants to speak with him, he immediately declines.

But it was just for show. The Puerto Rican calls back minutes later and accepts the offer to appear via webcam on First Take. He knows his next victims may play for Memphis, featuring players who punched each other over a card game. It would, The Puerto Rican surmises, be even easier a task to conquer them than it had been Los Angeles. He lobs the first grenade by saying he would prefer to play Memphis over their opponent, Oklahoma City. The Puerto Rican nods happily when he pictures Memphis’ Tony Allen hearing of his proclamation — it would be the first jab in a series that would surely bring about Allen’s demise.

... And his second

The Puerto Rican’s phone rings.

It is the German, calling to inform him of the result of Game 4 between Memphis and Oklahoma City.

The Small Puerto Rican tells the German he is late.

The German apologizes profusely, explaining the game had gone to three overtimes — Oklahoma had won — and begging for forgiveness.

The Puerto Rican decides against crushing the German, instead thanking him and hanging up.

He thinks for a moment, then takes another drag of his cigar.

He waits.

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LeBron James’ probably-now-abandoned quest to become a Global Icon had been going so smoothly for years. In Cleveland, LeBron pretty much nailed all four items on the checklist: Be obscenely good at something people like to watch, host Saturday Night Live, star in commercials, and avoid making a public gaffe at pretty much every turn.

Things haven’t gone nearly so well for him post-Decision, though.

Item number one, of course, is fine. LBJ has been as spectacular as ever on the court, a hurricane of size and skill that has — despite some popular sentiment — not been made any less effective by the presence of All-Star teammates. He still has an SNL hosting on his resume (and nobody can ever take it away from him, dammit) and he’s still in at least one really dumb commercial.

It’s item four that’s proving troublesome. We’ll even leave aside The Decision and all its social/cultural implications, its effect on his legacy, and the fact that it was one of the most uncomfortable hours of television ESPN has ever aired (which is saying something).

The Decision would receive votes in a poll on the biggest sporting PR fiascos of all time. But even if you leave it completely out of the discussion, the guy had a pretty awful year from a media perception, foot-in-mouth standpoint. Let’s break down the list of head-scratching LeBron moments.

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A pair of guys in their early twenties.

One is a lanky, marvelously athletic and versatile star forward hailed around the NBA as the Next Big Thing. The Lanky One is nothing short of a clear-cut phenom, unquestionably a talent worth building franchises and arenas around and fully capable of Putting The Team on His Back and winning a title.

The Lanky One has a sidekick, of course. His sidekick is a jet-fueled little point guard who is able — and more than willing — to carry the scoring load on an off night for Lanky, or make it tough for opposing defenses to concentrate their attentions too heavily on him. The Speedy One relies on a blazing first step and good instincts around the basket to make himself primarily a scoring weapon. But as he develops, he steadily gains court vision and passing that make him the perfect second fiddle to Lanky.

Lanky and Speedy reach the playoffs sooner than anyone thinks they will. Quickly, they are the envy of the league: a bright young duo destined for a career spent flying around the court together as youths and putting scares into established favorites, then mastering their powers together as they reach maturity and seriously contending for championships each year, and finally becoming crafty old veterans fending off a new generation of challengers before fading into retirement together.

This is the way the careers of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should unfold, in an ideal world. But they match so closely with a previous Lanky and Speedy — in terms of physique, style, and in light of developments this postseason, storyline — that it’s not safe to assume that’s how it will go.

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