2011 NBA Finals: LeBron James and the Enormous Expectation Level We Place on Him
Everything he does is criticized, magnified and analyzed to a level like no other athlete in the world today. Every national sports telecast leads off with talking heads discussing him, grading his most recent game, dissecting him possession by possession.
The reasons for the giant bull's eye square on his back are by in large his creations. The self-proclaimed "King" moniker, the arrogant powder toss, the usage of MJ's 23, the ill conceived decision to turn his free agency into a three-ring circus last summer, et cetera, et cetera.
I've long been a staunch defender of LeBron James, but after his pedestrian Game 4 performance in the NBA Finals, there's nary a leg to stand on in defense of the King this time.
You see, the other long standing rationale as to why we expect so much from James is because we're fully aware of what the two-time MVP is capable of.
This is a guy who reeled off his team's last 29 points in a pivotal road playoff victory against a far superior Pistons team in 2007. A guy who, in just his fourth season, led a collection of ordinary players with little playoff experience all the way to the NBA Finals.
A guy who by the age of 25 already had more MVP trophies to his credit than Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant did for their entire careers. A guy who FOR HIS CAREER has averaged 28.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and seven assists per game in the playoffs.
With great power comes great responsibility, and that expression rings true in the case of James.
So when LeBron musters just eight points, nine rebounds and seven assists in what was one of the most important games in his career considering what is at stake, it certainly raises the collective eyebrow of everyone from casual observer to die-hard fanatic.
Every player obviously has the right to a bad game. Remember, Kobe Bryant missed 18-of-24 shots in the most important game he played in last year. But the fact that the Lakers won the game permanently erased that from the fan's conscience. Being that the Heat lost, LeBron's lame duck effort gets compounded, deservedly so.
However, in Game 3, when James logged nearly 46 minutes, contributed game-altering defensive effort, played the role of facilitator to perfection with nine assists and got out of Dwyane Wade's way and allowed him to flourish offensively, the biased media still found a way to tear apart what was a beautiful, selfless performance.
One particular reporter asked LeBron about his routine of shrinking in fourth quarters. Analysts coast to coast quickly came to his defense, praising his unselfishness in yielding to Dwyane Wade and his hot right hand and putting the team's goals above his own.
Then came the Game 4 debacle, and the same individuals who were singing his praises for his selfless approach threw barbs at him for lack of aggressiveness. And they were absolutely right for doing so.
We as fans have otherworldly expectations for him, every single time he sets foot on a basketball court. We expect and demand him to score at will, coldly murder the opposition and finish games much the way Michael Jordan did.
But what we require from the King differs from what he expects from himself. A great game for LeBron isn't 50 points, it's 35, 10 and 10. And that's only if the team won—if they lost, then he'd be the first to tell you his stats don't mean a damn thing.
LeBron James isn't wired like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West or even Kevin Durant or Allen Iverson. For the most part, each of those stars left their indelible marks on the game by scoring. LeBron is as likely to hit a game-winning shot as he is to dish for a game-winning assist or block a potential game-winner the other way.
Can you remember a single time Kobe Bryant ever hit a teammate for a potential game-winning shot? LeBron has an extensive collection of outstanding clutch performances, yet our appetite for perfection is insatiable when he's involved. I'm merely suggesting we grade him by a different measuring stick, perhaps the same one by which Magic Johnson was measured.
NBA buffs may scoff at the notion, but the fact is Scottie Pippen had it right when he said LeBron "may be the greatest player to ever play the game." His combination of athleticism, basketball IQ and unselfishness has NEVER been matched before.
Even Jordan couldn't leave his fingerprints all over a game the way LeBron is capable of. But as it's been written a thousand times, LeBron can't touch Jordan's primal instinct to completely obliterate whoever stood in his way.
Despite all his accomplishments in his eight seasons in the NBA, if the Heat do go on to lose this series LeBron will face more criticism than any time previously, ten fold. LeBron now has two distinct black marks on his legacy, Game 5 in 2010 vs. Boston and Game 4 in 2011 vs. Dallas.
In both, LeBron looked to be detached, disenchanted, distant. Three adjectives you don't want associated with a two-time Most Valuable Player. Both measly efforts brought forth a whole new line of questioning, mostly to learn why the best basketball player in the world would be content uselessly standing in the corner on offense.
These NBA Finals clearly haven't been the King's finest hour, averaging just a shade over 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists while scoring just nine fourth-quarter points in the series.
But fortunately for him, the series isn't over. Far from it. NBA defenses, no matter the personnel or scheme, are at the mercy of LeBron James. DeShawn Stevenson can't guard him. Shawn Marion can't defend him. Jason Kidd can't check him.
If he wishes to salvage his considerable career achievements to this point and add the elusive first championship ring that's been so difficult to get, he'll come out in aggressive, attack mode from the opening minute. We know he's more than capable of it.
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