When you break it down, the NBA is full of stars, several superstars and many fading stars. For definition purposes, the stars are the best players on their teams. They average anywhere from 17 to 25 points a game on a given night. They are the players you think of when you think of that team, however they may or may not be invited to an All-Star Game.
Superstars are the type of players that can take over any game of the season and set the tone for the course of the season, they are in the top 15 in whatever statistical category you want to look at and also have several All-Star appearances on their resumes.
Based on the definition of a superstar, one could easily identify LeBron James and Derrick Rose as being two of the NBA's greatest current superstars. I would argue however, that both of them are uniquely talented and gifted but perhaps deeply flawed. This flaw is that both players lack the clutch component that defines transcendent Superstars.
This is the willful disobedience, so to speak, that allows players who have it (Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade, Manu Ginobili, Chauncey Billups) to beat and defeat even more talented players who do not have it (LeBron, Rose, Kevin Garnett, etc).
If you look at the circumstances, LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kevin Garnett were all heavily hyped prodigies that were given laurels well before they earned them and then did their best to fit in with their given thrones so to speak.
While all are no doubt fine players and no doubt will all make the Hall of Fame based on current projections, they also have gone through struggles in coming through in the clutch. Garnett for many years was a LeBron-lite so to speak. He was a player that was a mismatch for any team, yet when his team needed him the most he couldn't deliver. His frustration led him to Boston to finally be teamed up in a power trio that would help him win a championship.
LeBron has also followed suit with this chase-a-champ approach to free agency as he to has found himself latched onto one of the league's most clutch performers in Dwayne Wade. Derrick Rose needs to find his. Maybe Chicago will get smart and bring in a clutch performer instead of having Rose leave for more secure pastures in one of the coming summers.
It seems mind-boggling to the average fan as to how the games biggest stars could be so prone to choking on the biggest stages, but let's look at what goes into it.
When you are an athlete like a LeBron or Rose or even Garnett, the hype that has followed you most of your life is that you were the best player as soon as you walked on the court. Your size, skills and athleticism allowed you to make everything easy on yourself. Add in a little bit of work ethic and you will have the consistency you need to be successful in the NBA.
When this is the case its very easy for players like these three to have great success in the regular season.
But when more than money is on the line,( i.e legacies, last chances and man's eternal struggle to do something of significance) the psyche needed to thrive when the pressure is on is needed. When guys are willing to lose the long-term use of different parts of their body to win, it takes a lot more than being the most talented player physically on the court.
It takes the character trait of resilience that has been developed over a life of being short-changed or second guessed and having to prove yourself. It takes that clutch component. It's the missing piece that Rose (missed free throws and uncharacteristic play toward the end of close games even going back to his time at Memphis) and LeBron (many short-comings on the biggest stage, including a 17-point showing in the biggest game of his life) have to this point failed to develop and perhaps sadly never will.
Many will point to Lebron's current all around game and his ability to facilitate in the playoffs finding teammates for key baskets. I am sorry but clutch players just go ahead and make clutch baskets. I mean let's be serious how many people whip out highlight tapes of Jordan kicking it out to Kerr or Paxson in his greatest moments collection? Game winning shots are not the only measure of clutch, one should also include the entire key sequences of the game, the closing minutes basically where blood, sweat and tears are pushed out and one player decides win or lose its on him. Too often throughout James career its been a delegated responsibility. One could also defend James by saying well he's really focusing on being a defensive stopper well since when did great players only focus on one side of the ball to become irrelevant on the other? It's very hard to hear so many excuses for a player who makes enough on his own. Why is someone who is unguardable only putting up 17 points in a huge game. Lebron might win this series but he will continue to shield himself from any true accountability almost as well as he delegates closing responsibilities to his teammates when the pressure is on.
The intent of this article has never been to attack LeBron, Derrick Rose or any of the other athletes personally. The fact of the matter is, that it is an assessment of certain attributes that a player has or does not have. This analysis does not take into account for a peak or a sub-par performance that may happen from time to time. As such I would not point to the recent 8 point performance as a validation of my claim any more than James's career trends. Yes it is possible that sometimes in the clutch(like when Wade was injured and struggling against Chicago) however, it is more often the norm that LeBron does not have that certain quality to his game that allows for him to go into killer mode. He even stated he needed to be more aggressive as a reflection, but sadly this is not a thought process that one has or doesn't have, when it's do or die time you either do or you die. Since Wade's first year in the league when he was in the playoffs he had a knack for coming up big at the end of games. This was long before he was even considered one of the best players in the league, much less even his own team. Somehow someway the other players knew he could be counted on to deliver, and that they should get the ball to him. When you are clutch, you are not thinking I need to get the ball to someone that will score, you are thinking its on me and I will score no matter what. This is the main difference between LeBron (who is a great player, perhaps one of the most talented ever) and Dwayne Wade ( someone who might never be thought of as the best ever, but will always be remembered for how he turned it on).
Thanks for reading.