LeBron James took the final shot in regulation last night.
And then he and Dwyane Wade banded together in overtime like Batman and Robin (or Batman and Superman, or whatever incredible tandem of superheroes I can mention without making one more important than the other), and they took a commanding two-game lead over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
What a game.
Instead of talking about the overtime battle, a day later, people are still talking about the shots that James missed. Not the four huge offensive rebounds, the 34 points, 10 rebounds or seven assists, and not the victory, but that he didn’t hit the shot to finish things in regulation because that is what matters.
Newsflash: The Heat won the game. It doesn’t matter.
Enough with this clutch crap. Had the Celtics pulled out the victory, the criticisms of James would be just as annoying, but more understandable. Today, though? Enjoy two teams fighting for a victory, enjoy Rajon Rondo’s performance, enjoy the replays of Wade attacking the hoop, of James earning himself 24 trips to the free-throw line. Enjoy Udonis Haslem coming up big for his team in the clutch and Mario Chalmers providing a steadying hand throughout.
None of those things matter, though. In the news cycle and in water-cooler talks and on television tickers, it is James who will dominate conversation.
If you want to criticize James in this victory, then you’re likely going to find a way to criticize the way he hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy when he eventually wins it. His time is coming and until it does, those who want to criticize will find a way. When there isn’t a reason to fault James, one will be created.
This is part of his journey, though. Instead of just having to win to prove to himself that he can lead a team to a championship and that his team is the best in the league, he has to know that each and every step along the way will be picked apart and examined. Whether the end result is a win or a loss, his performance is an entirely different matter altogether.
While most players are defined by the amount of wins and losses their team has, for the time being, James is defined by the decision to announce a decision.
Will winning change that? I suppose, in some ways, it will. A player who wins can overcome a lot of things. Transgressions can be forgiven, faux pas forgotten, mistakes accepted. If James overcomes the mountain in front of him to accomplish his ultimate goal of becoming a champion, things will change.
Has there ever been a player under as harsh a microscope of social media, pressure and expectation as James? A player so despised for what he hasn’t done on a basketball court and where he chose to go to accomplish it? The narrative that chases him is a frustrating one. A superstar often treated like anything but—unlimited potential and unlimited criticism to go along with it—James can only play one game if he wants to win.
That game, of course, is his own. The same game that garnered him his third MVP award and makes him the single most complete, dominant player in the game today. If he stays true to that, one day he will hoist that trophy and earn himself the ring that he so desperately covets, regardless of how we dissect the performances it took to get him there.