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LeBron James, Afraid of the Moment?
- Updated: February 29, 2012
During Miami’s brilliant playoff run last season, we saw glimpses of what LeBron James was truly capable of when both the physical and mental aspects of his game were on point. Hitting clutch three pointers against the Bulls and Celtics, locking down the other team’s best player, and stepping up in moments where legends are born. Everybody thought that this was LBJ’s breakthrough moment. That this was a major turning point in his career and he would string off multiple championships to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of his critics. Then came the NBA finals. LeBron made relatively few errors, did his job on the defensive end, and averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Pretty good numbers for a very good player. If Chris Bosh or even Dwyane Wade had averaged these numbers, no fingers would have been pointed, no jokes would’ve been made, and everyone would have went on about their wonderful lives. However to many, including myself, these numbers were only sub-par, good at best. LeBron James, his critics, and his fans are so used to seeing LeBron James put up 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, that they were shocked when they saw such numbers that were not up to his standard
Last year in the NBA finals, James took 90 shots from the field and 20 attempts from the charity stripe. Compare that to Dwyane Wade’s 108 field goal attempts and 49 free throw attempts and you will see the bigger picture. LeBron felt like he wasn’t “the man”, but secondary to Dwyane Wade. However, given the confidence and the right mental state, LeBron James is capable of becoming the best player in NBA history. Day in and day out, the media has criticized LeBron for deferring in big moments and passing up the opportunity. By a certain standard, one can only be great, if he is put in the position to be great. For LeBron James, it seems like he is content with just being good. LeBron’s perspective in big moments can be mind-boggling at times. In certain situations, LBJ comes across as a person who thinks that if he doesn’t take the big shot, he can’t be criticized. In my opinion, this way of thinking is wrong on so many levels. Let me explain. You must first be put in a position to fail if you want to succeed. That’s why the great ones are so great. They took the chance of failure to achieve something greater than what they already had. You see, that’s the thing that’s so great about basketball and close situations, at the end of the game, you know it’s going to be a team’s best player going up against the opposing team’s best player. That’s what the fans come to see. Nobody really cares if the best player misses or makes the final shot. It’s just the fact that the two best players on the court are competing against each other at the highest level possible and giving their all while doing it, which is good enough in the minds of many fans. What is not good enough is passing to Eddie House for the game winner when you are clearly open for a three. Sure House will be given credit for hitting the big shot on that particular night, but he won’t be remembered in the books of history. You know why? Because he is not in the same universe, talent wise, as LeBron Raymone James.
Although many argue that Dwyane Wade may be the best player on the Miami Heat, a majority of fans, players, sports analysts, and news reporters alike, agree that the best player in the NBA currently, is LeBron James. For 47 minutes and 50 seconds, one could even argue that LBJ is the greatest to have ever played the game. But it’s those waning moments that is keeping LeBron from reaching his full potential as the greatest of all time. James has been asked this exact question before on a handful of occasions, on why he defers, why he shys away from the big moment. We get the same answer every time, in which James responds with something along the lines of, “I defer because it’s the right thing to do.” Indeed, if you are getting double teamed and there is a wide open Mario Chalmers in the corner and you hit him with one of your spectacular assists, then it is the right thing to do. But if you’re wide open and you’ve been hot all game, why not just give the fans what they want to see? I mean granted, there were times when even Michael Jordan passed to Steve Kerr or John Paxson for a game winning bucket. But there were also times when he was expected to not only make the big shot, but also take the big shot, much emphasis on the take. As the popular saying goes, there is a time and a place for everything and on All-star Sunday night, LeBron James was in the right place at the right time, but failed to pull the trigger, yet again.
Before the start of the 4th quarter, James was sitting on the bench, enjoying himself, and when he was asked by a reporter if he thought the Eastern squad could still come back and win the ball game, he claimed that the possibility of the Eastern all-stars winning the game was far from likely. That was until the King himself checked in. The East was down by 15 points until LeBron checked in at the 7-minute mark and the the Chosen One looked like a man on a mission. As soon as James checked in, he nailed an improbable bank shot in the face of Kobe Bryant, and that was only the appetizer. LeBron added two more three’s, rejuvenated the lifeless crowd, and the East was down by 1 point off a Deron William’s steal. After a Dwyane Wade bobble on the fast break, and one out of two free throws made by Kobe, the East was down two points and called a timeout. That is when Chicago Bulls head coach, Tom Thibodeau, drew up a play for Deron Williams as he used LeBron as a decoy. In this particular scenario, LeBron James was not at fault and had the shot by Deron Willaims went down, this article would probably not have even been written.
Little did we know, however, that LBJ would get the ball back in his hands in a matter of seconds. The sequences that ensued next were mind-boggling. After the airball by Williams, Carmelo Anthony tapped the ball out and it landed right back in Deron’s hands. What did Deron do next? He found the hot hand. Deron quickly swung the ball over to LBJ with 5 seconds left on the game clock, and at that exact moment all of America thought that this was it. LeBron was going to hit a game winner, the East was going to go home happy, LeBron was going to win the all-star game MVP, and the critics would go back hiding in their caves for a day. Presumably so, all of America was thinking this, except LeBron James himself. With 5 seconds left on the clock and LeBron expecting the game to be over, he was put in a position where there was no time to think, where instincts were supposed to kick in. What was LeBron’s first instinct? “Get the ball out of my hands as quickly as possible.” If you looked at the footage of the final five seconds, you can see that LeBron didn’t even look at the basket at all. He panicked and looked for somebody to bail him out, that person being Dwyane Wade. LeBron immediately tried to get the ball in the hands of D. Wade in the far left hand corner and committed a costly turnover at the end of the game.
Now, not to add insult to injury, but the East was given ANOTHER chance to tie the game up with 1 second left and a play was drawn up to have James inbound the ball. Now, this was the final head scratcher in my opinion. Perhaps many of you are thinking that Tom Thibodeau called for LeBron to inbound the ball because he was the best passer they had. But even so, if LeBron James wanted to take the final shot he would have taken the final shot. And I really don’t understand why he would even shy away from this? He had a shot at redemption after the previous costly turnover at almost no expense. Is this a foreshadowing of what’s to come in this year’s NBA playoffs? The self-proclaimed King could not muscle up the courage to go to Tom Thibodeau and say, “Look, I messed up the last play. Let me have the final shot to redeem myself.” To make matters worse, this wasn’t a game 7 of the NBA finals where nerves are expected to be at their highest, nor was it even a regular season game, but it was purely an exhibition game where criticism is least expected and big shots don’t have much value to them, if any value at all. To add even further insult to injury, Kobe Bryant scolded LBJ during the final 2 possessions of the game, while Carmelo Anthony, who was wide open on the 2nd to last play, gave him the most befuddled look a friend could give another friend. After the first botched pass, Bryant said something along the lines of, “Are you f*cking kidding me? Why didn’t you take the last shot? You’re supposed to be taking that shot.” And the final play where James inbounded the ball? Kobe was scolding James like a mother scolding her little child on why he didn’t finish his homework. As James was walking towards the sideline to inbound the ball, Kobe mouthed the words, “Come on man…”
And to top off this disaster among disasters, LeBron James acted in the worst possible way a superstar could act at the end of a game. He didn’t shake a single player’s hand, walked sheepishly off the court, and when asked by Craig Sager on his final minute blunders, LeBron replied with, “I had a key turnover,” referencing that he should have made a better pass. What he should have said was, “I should have taken the last shot.” Being one of the biggest LeBron enthusiasts since his days in Cleveland, I just don’t know how to defend this guy in the final moments anymore. Maybe we should all accept the fact that LeBron James just isn’t “that” guy. But on the other hand, maybe he was afraid of the criticism he would receive had he missed that final shot. Or maybe he really thought that passing it to Dwyane Wade was what the people wanted. Or maybe it’s just in his DNA to shy away from those big moments, like LeBron has said recently, “I’m more Magic than Michael.” Whatever it is, in those particular scenarios LBJ needs to think less and shoot more. Hopefully LeBron takes the advice that Kobe gave him to heart, and when given the chance again, he takes the final shot without fear of consequence.