Miami Heat: Can LeBron James Channel His Inner Demons into Playoff Success?
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In case nobody told you, LeBron James has some issues he still hasn't sorted out.
He's not only still chasing his first ring—the significance of which he forever altered when he hopped aboard the USS Riley—but lately he's been hearing a lot of people say, for a variety of reasons both good and bad, that he simply isn't the royalty they thought he was.
People questioned his heart (and still do) for taking the easy road in Miami, they rejected him for rejecting the "right way" to success, and when he fell on his face in the Finals, they laughed as hard as LeBron had laughed at the intro ceremony 11 months prior.
Between the public resentment, the unfulfilled aspirations and the monumental failures, LeBron James has more demons than you can shake a pitchfork at.
In order to conquer most of these demons, LeBron will have to not only avoid repeating past mistakes but also undo some of them. Winning a championship—especially on this team—won't automatically dispel the labels of choke artist, bully and gutless wonder. While it would be an achievement in itself not to make them worse, he'd have to conspicuously overperform to erase them from public memory.
Incidentally, with LeBron's slip-ups in Heat black being scrutinized and ridiculed from every which way, there were those who warned that it wasn't smart to get a player of his caliber angry. The reasons for this were generic and assumed: Great players get even greater the more they have to prove.
The drive to excel in the face of adversity—it's the most effective means of silencing the tougher critics, and it's what pushed countless great players over the top of the championship mountain. You know, when jerry-rigging a superteam wasn't an option.
Thus far, however, James hasn't shown the that combination of mental qualities required to play better with a chip on his shoulder, something people more or less assume comes prepackaged at that stratospheric talent level. This missing gear could also have something to do with his (occasional) reluctance to be an aggressor in make-or-break situations. What LeBron seems to lack, people continuously look for in their megastars: an uncanny, adversity-fueled confidence boost.
And thus the premise of this article becomes not "he can," but "can he?"
Many are already convinced he can't. LeBron has many ways of handling adversity, they say, but personally stepping up isn't one of them. He responds to unexpected obstacles by shrinking from them. He responds to playoff frustration by joining an unbeatable team—or at least that was the plan—and instead of using the doubters and critics to motivate him, he publicly bemoans the fact he's criticized at all.
For these people, there's little to fear in prodding LeBron ad nauseum with his personal failures since he's already more than disproved the assumption that, being an elite player, he possesses the ability to channel his anger into excellence.
For those who maintain that LeBron is incapable of rising to meet his personal demons, the accompanying assumption would seem to be that there is no tipping point to be reached even by the most ridiculed and abused sports idol—deservedly or not—in the world. After all, if there were he'd have reached it some time ago.
However, as others would contend, is it not at least possible that LeBron's threshold is simply that much higher, that his mental thermometer has yet to reach the boiling point? On the one hand, it would be a partial knock on LBJ—since it means he takes forever to stand up for himself mentally—but it also begs a continued respect for the fact that there may yet be a point when he says "enough is enough."
Self-affirmation and exorcising demons would seem to be a major part of LeBron's narrative at this point in his career, and nobody know for sure whether he can pass that test. In somewhat of a twist, playoff woes won't necessarily fix his demons, but he could use the latter to fix the former.
Setting aside the knee-jerk assumption that LeBron's capacity for redemption is a gross function of his skill level, the two sides suggest we either have ample evidence that he can't or just insufficient evidence that he can.
The jury will be back with a verdict sometime this June.
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