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Liberated LeBron rules Nets, NBA

NEW YORK -- LeBron James actually believes it is his world now, and on game night, that faith is more powerful than the sound bite recently delivered by the planet's most powerful man.

President Obama was moderating a White House ceremony for the Miami Heat on Monday, when James was giddier than he was the night he tackled that contest-winning fan. "It's your world, man," Obama assured the face of the NBA champs, something the president would never concede to a visiting head of state.

Amazing what a trophy can do for a small forward in desperate need of one. Seems like it was only yesterday that James was a lost, me-centric soul, a big-game choker whose insecurities inspired him to take his talents to You Know Where. Dwyane Wade, winner, was supposed to save LeBron from himself, at least until James was the one who did most of the saving on the way to last June's parade.

So now James isn't only the most talented player in the league; he's a liberated player, too, free from the burdens that weigh on uncrowned kings.

"Just keep throwing rocks at the throne," LeBron tweeted before contributing 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists to Wednesday night's 105-85 dismissal of the Brooklyn Nets. "Don't matter because nothing can break my zone."

On his first trip to the borough and the arena the Nets tried to pitch to him in the summer of 2010, LeBron appeared ready to go before the opening tip. When he was done with his stretching exercises on the locker room floor, James was rhythmically bopping his head to a beat in the corner, looking like he was psyching himself up for a heavyweight fight.

Of course he'd heard about the morning muscle-flexing from Reggie Evans, an unworthy antagonist quoted at the Nets' shootaround questioning the legitimacy of Miami's title in a lockout-shortened season, and questioning the legitimacy of the three-time MVP whom P.J. Carlesimo had called unguardable.

"LeBron is no different from Joe Johnson or Andray Blatche," Evans told the Daily News.

Truth was Johnson and Blatche and Evans looked just like LeBron out there in that they all had two arms and two legs. "Hold on," James said as he sat at his locker after the game, a white towel wrapped around his waist and ice packs strapped to his knees. "Let me look at Reggie Evans' numbers real quick."

James lifted the box score beneath him for inspection and liked what he saw. "He had no offensive rebounds," LeBron said, "so we did our number on him. And we got the win, more important."

James dropped the box score that showed Evans with no offensive boards and no points into the ice tub between his feet. On the night he'd extended his personal winning streak against the Brooklyn/Jersey Nets to 17, James admitted the quotes put him in a mood to effectively defend his title.

"No one knows what it takes unless you've done it," James said of the notion that his championship deserves the kind of asterisk Phil Jackson wanted to slap on the Spurs after their post-lockout title in '99.

"You can't sit here and judge and talk about a team winning a championship unless you've been through it, and unless you've done it, and [Evans] hasn't done it. ... It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, a lot of pitfalls to win a championship. You just can't come out and say something about that versus a champion."

No, James wasn't about to let some fringe NBA figure put the champagne back in the bottle, not after all the grief he took before beating Oklahoma City in five.

How far had James come by winning the ring he'd gagged away to Dirk Nowitzki's Mavericks the year before? A friend of his in the headlines this week might've been the best guy to ask.

A few months before LeBron fell to Dallas in the Finals, and fell in a spectacular way, Alex Rodriguez spoke of what the 2009 World Series title had done for his unflattering postseason legacy and offered up some wisdom for the basketball star who kept coming up small in the biggest spots.

"When LeBron overcomes, it's going to be sweet for him," A-Rod said then. "But these are the little battles he has to go through, and a lot of it is going to a different place. If this happened in Cleveland, it never gets talked about. But once you expose yourself, like me leaving Seattle, the training wheels are off.

"If LeBron would've stayed in Cleveland, I think none of this would've happened, because you're protected by the media, you're protected by the market and you never left. But ... he's too good. His time is going to come, and it's up to [the media] to make it miserable for him until he does."

Rodriguez probably believes the media has made his life miserable again over the past couple of days, even if the latest bombshell report about his shadow pharmacology alleges nothing but self-inflicted wounds. If A-Rod took his talents to South Beach for chemical enhancement, as the Miami New Times charges, his one-and-done ring won't be worth the paper his publicist's denial was printed on.

LeBron James has no such issues to deal with, not even close. In fact, by winning it all, by dropping the silly bad-guy act and by growing up just a little bit, James is now in complete command of his craft.

He was comfortable enough in his own skin to jump that half-court-heaving Everyman last week without worrying about people calling him a self-promoter or a phony. Fresh off that coronation at the White House, he was secure enough about his standing in the sport to offer spot-on commentary about the Nets' intensity under Carlesimo.

"It sucks that Avery [Johnson] had to take the hit of them not wanting to play at a high level," James said.

Hours later, LeBron didn't match Brooklyn's P.J.-era level; he far exceeded it. Carlesimo knew it was coming, too, saying he was of no mind to "disagree with LeBron before we play him" and maintaining that James was entitled to his opinion "as much, if not more, than anyone."

Wednesday night, the many Miami fans who had infiltrated Barclays Center cheered LeBron and even rewarded him with an MVP chant on the foul line in the fourth. James allowed that he enjoyed the arena and atmosphere and said the place must've felt more like home to the Nets than their buildings in Jersey.

"I'm a little upset this is our only appearance of the season," he said.

LeBron didn't talk to Evans during the game, and declared, "I'm not going to sit here and give Reggie Evans a lot of press" after the game. James was satisfied that he'd "let my game do the talking."

His game came across loud and clear. A liberated LeBron James has the basketball world by the throat, and it's going to be a while before he decides to let go.