There’s absolutely no justification for the amount of flack LeBron James has received for his performance in Game Five of his team's series against the Celtics.
ESPN.com is currently highlighting an article entitled “King Who,” NBA.com’s featured article is titled “Who Are You and What Have You Done With LeBron,” and suddenly the same analysts and fans who were all but ready to hand the Cleveland Cavaliers the Larry O’Brien have completely jumped the bandwagon and are picking the Celtics to finish off the series.
It's just unbelievable, but perhaps James said it best: “I spoil people with my play.”
On one hand, it's impossible to not be spoiled by it.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers even to feign relevancy, let alone dominance, LeBron James has to be perfect every night, regardless of the fact that no player in the last two decades has had to shoulder that kind of responsibility, not even Michael Jordan.
Though Jordan’s bad games were few and far between, he played with Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen and should-be Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was a lock-down defender and the premier rebounding forward of his generation, arguably of all time. Jordan also had the luxury of being coached by Phil Jackson, not to mention a fair share of talented role players featuring guys such as Toni Kukoc.
Jordan didn’t have to be perfect almost every night. He just happened to be, being Jordan and all.
Tim Duncan played with superstars Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and even David Robinson. In fact, the most recent Championship in Duncan’s display case was capped off with Tony Parker, not Duncan, winning the Finals MVP.
Kobe Bryant has played with Shaq while he was arguably the most dominant center of all time and a slew of talented, veteran role players including Robert “Big Shot” Horry and Derek Fisher, not to mention Bryant’s current team of Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum.
However, LeBron James has been placing the Cavaliers in contention with guys like Mo Williams, who I’m willing to bet the majority of NBA fans hadn’t even heard of prior to 2009, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who has all the toughness and ruggedness of a soiled diaper, and 2010 Shaquille O’Neal, who no longer commands enough respect even to have gotten playing time in Game Five's fourth quarter.
Only recently did the Cavaliers add Antawn Jamison to the mix. This postseason Jamison is the only player in Cleveland, aside from LeBron, who averages more than six rebounds or more than 13 points per game. Despite this lack of talent and depth, the Cavaliers won the NBA’s best regular season record for the second consecutive year due to LeBron’s nearly flawless play.
So yeah, I can understand why some fans and analysts have been spoiled by LeBron. What I can’t understand is why the sudden change has come so quickly, particularly in a non-elimination game. If anything, LeBron’s lapse in Game Five should make us appreciate him all the more.
LeBron’s first game scoring less than 20 points on less than 40 percent shooting in God-knows-how-long resulted in the worst home playoff loss in franchise history.
Think about that for a moment.
Is LeBron James just not supposed to have bad games?
Apparently, in today’s NBA shooting 51 percent from the floor and averaging just under 30 points per game, all while leading your team in blocks, rebounds, and assists isn’t enough to afford the luxury of fallibility or mortality.
People somehow forget the fact that the Celtic team LeBron is up against sports a roster nearly identical to the 2008 NBA Champions roster. In fact, with the improvement of Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, one could argue that this roster is even better.
I suppose none of that matters. LeBron James, because he is LeBron James, is expected to find a way to succeed, regardless of the opposition or his teammates’ ineffectiveness.
Eventually, James will play a near-perfect game or series and still lose to a better team, in a fashion similar to the way he did in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
The question is, who’ll be left on the bandwagon?