Mere minutes after the Dallas Mavericks stunned the basketball landscape with a thorough whipping of the NBA's poster boys of perceived dominance, all it took was two paragraphs of a press conference to solidify a rather large but oft-ignored elephant in the proverbial room.
LeBron James' play in the clutch doesn't justify his feeling that he is the ultimate alpha dog. Just as well, he lacks the ability to keep himself from saying the wrong things anymore.
The warning signs have been there a lot over the past calendar year: supposedly spoiling Cavs fans with his play; the callous "South Beach" line (to say nothing of the dog-and-pony show); the infamous number of titles to be won.
Then came the Game 6 postgame. ESPN's Rachel Nichols asked probably the question everybody except Miami wanted to know, and after LeBron's contextually "I'm-just-better-than-you-so-get-the-hell-off-my-back" mini-rant, it set off an epiphany for many in various media-based forms, as well as some in the Miami sports beat trying to clean up the mess.
This much is glaringly clear: He's not the same guy we used to watch. He used to know what to say and how to say it, as well as his timing in when to comment. The inherent savvy he once seemingly possessed by the buckets is gone. Making the point that you're better than the day-to-day "common folk" shows a fragile psyche—one that's not as confident in his incredible ability to own an entire league if he wanted.
Realize that maybe he just didn't want to be "The Man." Maybe he's not able to handle the expectations of being the one a team builds around. It only took eight years to definitively understand that he's not in any way Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki's equal (or Dwyane Wade's, for that matter). He's the highest end of role players—which, if you're Chris Bosh, ultimately is a great résumé point.
Many still don't forgive him for pulling the power play that set the Cavs back at least two or three years. But it's easy to speculate as to when, if ever, it would've been that James would lead them over the hump. For the first time in 11 years of watching him play basketball, including the token St. Mary's games on ESPN, people are finally questioning his heart to win. We just don't know anymore.
It's to the point where it is fair to question if his play justifies the beast that we all are, in part, guilty of feeding. But it's perilously close to spiraling out of control. If LeBron doesn't realize that the hype and derision is a product of his own doing, the legacy that he continues to build will be that of a hollow shell—one that never should've existed in the first place.
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