LeBron during Game 6
“I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.” I feel safe in the assumption that between the ages of 16 and 21, every child heard that from one of his or her parents.
I remember the first time my mother had the unfortunate duty of breaking that news. It was days after my first semester at Boston University, and my mom had just received my first semester report card.
After realizing that all of my partying, video games, and lack of studying had finally caught up to me, I was resigned to what would come next. My mother finally dropped the line on me: “Eddy, I am not really as mad as I am disappointed.”
That one word, “disappointed,” hit me harder than any beating I could have taken or any furious yelling she could have delivered.
Unlike being yelled at or being punished, which suggest that you have done something wrong, being told that someone is disappointed in you is different—it suggests that you have failed to do something right, which is much worse.
That phrase suggests that you had the potential to do better, but did not take advantage. That phrase brings to mind the famous quote from The Bronx Tale, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”
Right now, I’m not mad at LeBron James, I’m just disappointed.
I believe that Michael Jordan gave society and the media a reason for which to compare every young superstar to him. When Jordan played, he was so great that he seemed to transcend the game. When there was a tight game in which MJ had a chance to take the last shot, it was not just likely that he would make it—I expected him to make it.
After his retirement with the Bulls, everyone missed a superstar like Michael was—someone who, when you watched him, you knew that you were watching history being made. You knew that you were watching the history books being rewritten before your eyes.
Every time a young superstar entered the league, the Jordan comparisons were inevitable. We looked for a reason why this superstar could equal, or even surpass, the great MJ.
However, one by one, each player gained a giant flaw that excluded him from being in that particular conversation.
First, Grant Hill took the league by storm. He was stricken from the list when his balky ankle gave out.
Then it was Vince Carter, whose exciting dunks captivated crowds across the country. Soon, everyone figured out that Vince’s effort varied constantly and he was never built to be a late-game assassin like MJ was.
At some point, Kobe Bryant became a serious candidate in the comparison to Jordan. Because of his multiple championships, pathological competitiveness, intensity, and late-game heroics, Kobe became a serious threat to eventually surpass Michael.
However, as soon as Kobe could not win without Shaq and lost the NBA championship in a blowout in 2008, society let out a collective, “Michael would have never let that happen,” and that discussion ended as well.
I remember so vividly Game 5 of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semi-Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, who were playing away from home, won the game by 32 points.
However, the post-game discussion by the TNT analysts did not revolve around the dominance of the Celtics during the game, but instead by the curious effort by the reigning MVP of the league, LeBron James.
Charles Barkley said to Ernie Johnson, “…I’ve said all year that LeBron James was the best basketball player in the world—but I’m 100% disappointed. Not the fact that he didn’t have a good game, he clearly didn’t have a good game. But his mentality…I go back, I played against a Michael Jordan, a Karl Malone, a Patrick Ewing, listen, their gun was empty by the end of the game. And I did not see that tonight…This was clearly the biggest game of the season. I did not see the aggression that I needed from an MVP at home.”
During this discussion, Barkley’s face looked deflated and depressed. His face could be summed up in one of the first words he used: “disappointed.”
I have seen LeBron James use the same talents he took to South Beach to make me feel like the comparisons to Michael Jordan are warranted. His legendary 2007 playoff performance against the Detroit Pistons, in which he scored twenty-nine of his team’s last thirty points, made a solid Pistons team look like they ran into that middle school basketball player that hit his growth spurt before everyone else.
He is, without question, one of the greatest athletes the NBA (or any sport for that matter) has ever seen. His body, all 6’9’’, 270lbs of it, resembles a statue of a Greek god. LeBron is built like a defensive end and moves like a point guard.
Perhaps LeBron’s athleticism, fast rise into stardom, and immeasurable potential can be blamed for the scrutiny he receives on a consistent basis. However, my personal reasons for being disappointed in LeBron run much deeper.
First, in all of LeBron’s eight seasons, LeBron has yet to exhibit a low-post game, even though he owns a height, strength, and quickness advantage over practically every defender who he plays.
Arguably, Michael Jordan’s greatest advantage over his defenders was his ability to score from all spots on the floor, including possessing a virtually unstoppable fadeaway jumper. When Kobe Bryant realized that he could add a low-post dimension to his game, he spent an entire summer under the tutelage of Hakeem Olajuwon to learn a cornucopia of low-post moves.
LeBron’s unwillingness to mimic Kobe for a summer sincerely disappoints me.
Reflecting upon LeBron’s very shaky Finals performance of this past year, I believe that I have come up with a theory as to why his struggles occurred. Unlike Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, or any other prime-time scorer in the league, LeBron does not have a singular go-to move to lean back on when his jumper fails him.
Dirk, as he showed time and time again in the Finals, has an unstoppable, off-balance, high arching fadeaway jumper that, even when he was struggling with his stroke, he relied on to produce clutch points.
When Kobe needs a clutch basket, he usually relies on his low-post game, and Jordan-esque fadeaway.
Durant possesses a killer step-back jumper when he needs clutch points.
I feel that when LeBron brings the ball up late in the game, he has to decide on which move to fall back. Suddenly, the phrase, “…what should I do?” is no longer the catchphrase to his infamous post-Decision commercial.
For me, the second most disappointing aspect of LeBron’s NBA Finals was his general attitude.
Following Game 6 of the finals, after the Mavericks had celebrated on Miami’s home floor, Magic Johnson recalled one of his NBA Finals losses.
He recollected the memory of his 1984 Finals, in which his performance paled in comparison to what everyone was used to seeing of him. After that series ended, Magic explained that he was crushed. He immediately apologized to his teammates, and was in the gym every day that summer refining his game and his body, and watching film of his flaws. He called his teammates every day to discuss with them how to improve.
LeBron’s post-Finals press conference was perhaps the most insulted I can remember being after a sporting event. Obviously, the “…everybody can go back to their personal problems, and I’ll continue my life and doing what I want to do,” comment touched everyone the wrong way. That needs no explanation whatsoever.
However, what bothered me more than that comment was LeBron’s complete absence of an apology, or even an admission for playing below the standards that his fans, teammates and coaches have come to expect. I felt like his comments came off as detached—almost as if losing the NBA Finals was like having a bad day at work instead of missing out on fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Achieving the opportunity to play for an NBA championship does not present itself every year; it is not guaranteed. Therefore, when LeBron has the opportunity to do so and does not take advantage, he should be considerably more emotionally affected than he seemed.
Even with those two disappointments, there remains an event that I will never be able to forgive LeBron for doing.
He put a ceiling on his greatness.
When Michael Jordan played, there were many foils present in the league to challenge him. Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and many other future Hall of Famers presented enough of a challenge to MJ that he was forced to continue to improve in order to top them all. That, and MJ’s pathological competitiveness, kept his game one step above everyone else.
In the NBA today, LeBron is at the top of the food chain, much like MJ was. There are only a few players in the league that can dominate an entire game or series like he can. Dwyane Wade is one of them.
Wade, along with Bryant and now Durant, provided intrigue into the conversation of who the best player in the league was. They were on teams that would provide a constant challenge to LeBron during the playoffs, opening up the potential for some all-time great series.
Then came the Decision. I’m sure by now everyone has seen the footage and heard, “I’ve decided to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
Aside from the public slaughter of the state of Ohio and the incredible narcissism that comes with holding a one-hour television special to announce your choice of team, what bothered me most about LeBron joining the Heat was that he robbed me of the chance of seeing him and Dwyane Wade battle in the playoffs for the next five to ten years.
Now, instead of those two pushing each other to new heights in hotly contested battles every spring, they have to share the ball with one another, which is effectively putting a leash on their individual abilities for the remainder of the primes of both their careers.
Instead of being forced by Wade to unlock his full potential in order to win, or definitively showing that his potential simply is not good enough to beat Wade, LeBron abandoned the chance much like he abandoned shooting in every fourth quarter of these past NBA Finals.
After all of this, some may wonder what exactly I want LeBron to do. Well, LeBron, I want you to shut up and play basketball. This offseason, learn from your mistakes in the fourth quarter. Look over the film every day like Magic did in 1984 and come back better because of it.
I, personally, had ended my hopes of you being a transcendent star like Michael was when he played, but that does not mean that I do not want to know your capabilities. Stop caring about what I think about you, or what the media thinks.
We are not shooting the ball in the fourth quarter. Like you said, we are normal people with normal problems. However, the problem is that right now, you are normal too.
You are, without a doubt, no longer at the top of the food chain after your performance in the Finals. Everyone agrees with that. Until you have more rings than I do, you cannot tell me to go back to my normal life with my normal problems.
Right now, my normal problems are your normal problems.