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Derrick Rose can learn from LeBron James about what not to grow into

It’s not fair say Derrick Rose is anti-LeBrJames (above) but he’s close. | Wilfredo Lee~AP

It’s not fair to say Derrick Rose is the anti-LeBron James (above), but he’s close. | Wilfredo Lee~AP

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Updated: February 21, 2012 1:55AM

I don’t like LeBron James.

I once did and might again, but right now the Miami Heat superstar reminds me of all the semi-delusional, self-aggrandizing, fan-tailed peacocks I have seen in my sportswriting career, crownless gods strutting in their mighty youth, mirrors held before them by sycophants, strolling blindly off the cliff of wealth and fame to splatter on the rocks of might-have-been.

James is only 26 — he’ll be 27 in a week — and he’s rich beyond belief.

Back in June 2007, an editorial on stated: ‘‘Forget whether LeBron James is the next Michael Jordan. The more interesting question is whether he can be the next Warren Buffett.’’

No, it’s not. Never has been. Not to sports fans, anyway.

The only question that interests us is whether this man can win an NBA championship. He hasn’t yet, and he is entering his ninth season. His talent is overarching, but talent is to winning as fine grapes are to the finest wine: You better believe something happens in the cask.

Indeed, considering his potential, James already should be on his way to an NBA dynasty, not serving as the brunt of loser jokes.

Typical: What’s the difference between Saturn and LeBron? Saturn has rings.

And don’t even bring up the fourth-quarter gags.

None of this is totally James’ fault. In fact, it was kind of cool that he colluded with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, moved to Miami and basically showed the NBA that it is, as commissioner David Stern always says, a players’ league.

Perfume of failure

Yet leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers via a cruel TV special called, modestly, ‘‘The Decision’’ was way uncool. Now the ‘‘Three Amigos’’ are sometimes called the ‘‘Three Mi-Egos.’’ The way the Heat was beaten by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, losing three consecutive games after opening a 2-1 lead, only added to the perfume of elite failure that wafts from James.

Well, none of this would matter, I suppose, if the Heat wasn’t standing in the way of the Bulls.

It’s not fair to say Derrick Rose is the anti-LeBron — I didn’t like that entrance-test-score messiness at Memphis, for one thing — but he’s close.

Yet the courteous, self-deprecating Rose has won nothing, either. We’re not counting individual honors or high school ball here.

So the battle is on between two young men to see where substance lies. Who wants it?

I have worked many times in the past with famed Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss Jr. The always-upbeat artist has a hard-to-describe kinship with great athletes. Plus, he has done dozens of SI swimsuit shoots, getting major props from everybody from Cheryl Tiegs to Brooklyn Decker.

In the current year-end issue of SI, the photographer talks about his 50-year sports-shooting career, which is, by the way, hotter than ever. Here he is on James:


‘‘I first photographed LeBron James in 2003, when he was a rookie in Cleveland. He was pretty raw. .  .  . When I shot him six years later, in 2009, the difference was amazing. He walked in like a king that day, and he took over that room. And not only physically, although he was massive then. He was muscular, charming, articulate, the prince of hoops. He couldn’t have been more of an ambassador for the game.

‘‘Times change, and sadly LeBron became a villain. .  .  . In July 2010, I got an assignment from Nike to shoot LeBron right after his TV special announcing his move to the Heat. We rented the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, where the Lakers and Clippers used to play, and there were 53 people on my crew, including hair and makeup artists, production people, a stylist. I had $10,000 in Hollywood lighting. It was huge.

‘‘When LeBron arrived, it was if Nelson Mandela had come in. Six or seven blacked-out Escalades pulled up, a convoy.
LeBron had bodyguards and his masseuse. His deejay was already there, blasting. This was for a photo shoot that was going to last an hour, tops.

‘‘This is how crazy it was: I wasn’t even allowed to talk directly to LeBron. There was a liaison, someone from Amare Stoudemire’s family. I would say to him, ‘OK, have LeBron drive right,’ and then he’d turn to LeBron and say, ‘LeBron, go right.’ .  .  .

‘‘My God, I’ve been around Michael Jordan, but with him nothing even came close to this. Unimaginable.’’

There it is. Massive ego. Zero rings.

Hope D-Rose is paying attention. I’d hate to not like him.

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