After Game 3, a Miami victory, a reporter impertinently asked LeBron James why he seemed to be shrinking during the game's most critical moments. The question then seemed out of bounds and nearly irresponsible. But now it seems like it may be the only question that should be asked—particularly after LeBron’s worst-ever playoff game Tuesday night.
No athlete has been more examined, reviewed and critiqued than LeBron James has this season. But now that the Miami Heat have reached the NBA Finals as many predicted, the spotlight is shining even more intensely on him. What seems to be illuminating are some very serious flaws. LeBron, the NBA’s highest profile player, is often compared to Michael Jordan in terms of all-around ability, yet has not been Jordan-esque at all against the Dallas Mavericks.
He has seemed curiously passive in his play in the closing minutes. In fact, in the fourth quarters of the four games played so far, LeBron has scored a grand total of only nine points.
Perhaps this is the negative by-product of having two supremely talented players whose games are more similar than complementary. Dwyane Wade, the Heat’s other superstar, has dominated play. On Tuesday, Wade finished with 32 points, while LeBron managed only eight. Wade has been the team’s leader by far throughout this series, which has been a surprise to a lot of onlookers.
Often overlooked is the fact that Wade led the Heat to an NBA championship five years ago over these same Dallas Mavericks, with one of the best performances ever witnessed outside of Michael Jordan. But LeBron, who also has a previous NBA Finals appearance in 2007 with Cleveland, did little to help the Cavaliers, who were swept in four games by the San Antonio Spurs.
LeBron who famously took his talents to South Beach last year and created one of the biggest public and media firestorms of all time, will now have even more eyes on him during Game 5 on Thursday. But, it will be scrutiny of his own making. How he responds will be telling, and perhaps even career-defining.
The thing about LeBron James is that he will continue to be measured by the lofty expectations that have followed him since he entered the NBA straight out of high school eight years ago. Even though he has won the MVP award twice, he has still not won an NBA title or even looked like an all-star when it counted. This will go a long way toward determining what his legacy will be years after he retires.
Is it fair to put this kind of pressure on LeBron and pick his game and psyche apart? When you are the highest paid, most celebrated and perhaps the most talented – yes it is.