"What is wrong with him?"
"What is he doing?"
That's what every basketball fan was asking themselves while watching LeBron James play the final three games of the NBA Finals. And rightly so.
In those last three losses, LeBron had 8, 17, and 21 points. Eight points from LeBron James!?! That just doesn't happen.
In fact it hadn't happened since Jan. 5, 2007, in a win over Milwaukee, in which he went 3 for 13. But that was a meaningless regular season game against a below mediocre Bucks team.
This was Game 4 of the NBA flippin' Finals! This is when great players are supposed to shine. This is when LeBron was supposed to take over and show that he was "The Man" of the NBA.
It didn't happen.
How can such a talented player disappear like he did on the most grand stage of his life?
Look, argue all you want about LeBron, but no logical person can say that he isn't a supremely talented player who should be the best player in the league every time he laces up his pair of signature Nikes.
Notice I said "talented", not "great," because I'm not sure we can ordain LeBron with that adjective after what he put on display in the 2011 NBA Finals.
He crapped the bed.
He was just flat-out scared. And that's all there was to it. He disappeared when his team needed him most. Again.
How can he be considered great? He averaged nearly 27 points per game during this regular season. He averaged under 18 points in these NBA Finals.
He passed the ball like it was a grenade for large portions of Games 4, 5 and 6. He looked like he had some teenage girl self-esteem issues while awkwardly hoisting up jumpers. This was not LeBron.
This was not the LeBron who had destroyed the Celtics and Bulls (in crunch time!!!) just a few weeks prior.
This was not the LeBron who scored 29 of his team's final 30 points in the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit in 2007, in what has been his best game of his life up to this point.
This was not even the LeBron who stepped onto the court and put up a 25-6-9 with 4 steals in his first NBA game.
This was not that "Ahead of his time, ready for the moment" LeBron that has graced the hardwood so many times before. This was "Deer-in-the-headlights, wet-pantsed" LeBron that has reared his ugly head a few memorable times.
The infamous "Game 5" LeBron can now be known as "Game 4" LeBron after his atrociously passive Game 4 in which he only put up 11 shots. How does the winner of two of the last three MVP awards put up 11 shots in such a crucial game? How does that happen?
This guy was supposed to be one of the all-time greats? He looks more like Karl Malone all over again. He wins, he puts up stats, but when it counts, he does neither.
We gave him a pass for his below average Finals against the Spurs in 2007 when his Cavaliers were swept handily by the veteran Spurs.
LeBron was saddled with a underwhelming (That's being extremely kind. Larry Hughes was the second leading scorer on that team. Like I said, extremely kind.) supporting cast that he carried there before meeting a more experienced and flat-out better team in the Finals. That was understandable.
This was not understandable. LeBron had help this time. He had Dwyane Wade (who was brilliant at times, but had his shortcomings in this series as well), who is undoubtedly one of the top five players in the league, if not one of the top two or three.
He had Chris Bosh, who would be the No. 1 option on about half of the teams in the NBA, as his third amigo. He didn't have Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas trying to win him a title against a proven winner.
He had former Finals MVP Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh trying to win him a title against a team who'd been famous for choking in the biggest of moments. All-time greats don't lose in that situation.
LeBron lost. The Miami Heat lost. And the Miami Heat lost, in large part, due to the shortcomings of LeBron James.
Had LeBron played even a smidgen better in Game 4, Miami probably wins the title, he has a ring, and his "haters" are temporarily silenced.
Had he made a play down the stretch, halting the Mavs' 15-point comeback in Game 2, Miami probably wins the title, he has a ring, and his "haters" are temporarily silenced. Quite unfortunately for LeBron, he went 0-for on those things.
He's still the "King without a Ring." He still "can't make change for a dollar because he doesn't have a fourth quarter." He's still part of the "one of the best players without a championship" statistic. And he can only blame himself this time.
LeBron James is supremely talented, but LeBron James is not great*.