Let me make something clear right off the bat: I unabashedly dislike LeBron James as an athlete.
I rooted against him in Cleveland, slammed him for The Decision and yelled at him through my TV on an embarrassing number of occasions. So it’s safe to say my opinions on LeBron, Game 6 and his legacy should be taken with a dump truck full of salt. But this is America, so I’m going for it anyway.
LeBron James is, at his best, the greatest basketball player I’ve ever seen. I was born in 1990, so unfortunately my memories of Michael Jordan are limited. I watched as Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant won three straight championships. I saw Tim Duncan win four, and then Kobe two more.
But I’ve never seen anybody do the things LeBron does. He defends all five positions, takes it to the rim at will, passes as efficiently as anyone, blocks shots, snags rebounds—the man does it all.
Except, something seems to be missing. I can’t quantify it. I don’t know if there’s even a word for it. Killer instinct? Cold-bloodedness? Guts? Maybe.
MJ had it. Kobe has it.
At the end of the game, with the season on the line, do you have the gumption to take the last shot without doubting yourself? MJ and Kobe always believed the ball was going in on that last heave. With LeBron, it seems like he’s hoping and praying it goes in so he doesn’t have to face the world after coming up short again.
Last night, LeBron single-handedly brought the Heat back from the brink of elimination with an unbelievable headband-less performance. I’ve never seen anything like it. He looked like a bully fifth-grader trying to impress his friends by facing off against five kindergartners. But then, all of a sudden, the game was on the line. The pressure mounted. And LeBron James made two consecutive and crucial turnovers. The Spurs had them dead to rights.
At this point I’m thinking about LeBron’s tarnished legacy. One win and three losses in the NBA Finals. Two crucial mistakes in the biggest game of the season.
Then Ray Allen bailed him out.
So today, LeBron gets a pass. To his credit, he did record a monster triple-double. But I can’t forget him looking completely lost at the end of Game 6—not to mention his uninspired performance through the first three quarters. Lebron is great. He's really, really great. But legends don’t shrink in the biggest moments. That’s what made them legends in the first place. I’ve seen LeBron shrink too many times to be compared with the likes of MJ and Kobe.
Who knows? Maybe Game 7 on Thursday will change my mind.
I doubt it.