These past few weeks have been exploding with entertaining basketball. Yet there is no denying that each game carried with it a deeper, underlying meaning for the stars involved.
This is most evident when it comes to LeBron James and his eighth failed attempt at a championship.
Through the first three rounds, James appeared to be on the best run of his career. He was hitting his jumpers with a consistency never before seen, as well as closing out games with authority, the biggest criticism against him to this point in his career. Perhaps most important was his stifling and smothering defense, the main contributing factor to Derrick Rose’s poor Eastern Conference Finals.
It appeared as if this specific performance was his true coming out party; the official welcoming of James to the postseason clutch performers club.
Dwyane Wade took center stage throughout the first three games, as he was the focal point of Miami’s offense and visibly their vocal and emotional leader.
James took a backseat while turning in disappointing performances, none worse than his eight points in Game 4. In the aftermath of that anemic output, LeBron vowed to be more aggressive as national media and fans expected alpha male performances from that point on.
Instead, LeBron lost the confidence to shoot the ball. He continually deferred to teammates and passed up open opportunities. This was especially prevalent in Game 5 when Wade briefly went down with a minor hip injury and the Heat needed James to attack more than ever.
His struggles manifested themselves most clearly during fourth quarters. James inexplicably stood on the weak side of play after play, uninvolved and appearing almost indifferent. Gone was his assaulting offensive mentality of the conference finals and his coast-to-coast defense. LeBron disappeared: it’s as simple as that. The reasons why, however, are less simple.
Never before has a superstar, especially the most talented player on the planet, behaved in this manner during such critical games two years in a row.
This apparent apathy, or fear of the moment or sheer inability has painted LeBron in a vastly negative light when it comes to pressure situations. This recurring blemish, as of now, is LeBron’s legacy.
This whole James fiasco keeps bringing me back to D2: The Mighty Ducks. When accused of blowing the game by his coach, Gunner Stahl responds in his heavy Icelandic accent, “You lost it for yourself!”
Well LeBron, in terms of your legacy, you’re losing it for yourself.
If these last 12 months have shown us anything, it’s that James’ parody commercial “The LeBrons” is actually more accurate than people think. There are multiple LeBrons—a clear distinction between LeBron the Person, LeBron the Athlete and LeBron the Brand.
LeBron the person has reveled in being the villain this season. He has revealed to us that he is a somewhat egotistical superstar who truly couldn’t care less what anybody in this world thinks of him. LeBron the Person thought “The Decision” was justifiable because he raised money for charity.
As Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Josh Benjamin pointed out to me, LeBron the person made some very raw and telling statements after the game.
“All the people that were rooting for me to fail… at the end of the day, tomorrow they have to wake up and have the same life that (they had) before they woke up today,” James said. “They got the same personal problems they had today. And I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do.”
James' ego comes out in full force here. This is not how championship players respond to the biggest loss in their career. They do not make snide remarks fueled by bitterness. I'm 19 years old and even I believe that LeBron the person has some things to learn about being a man and an ultimate competitor.
LeBron the Athlete is still figuring out what it takes to be a champion. The most talented ballplayer on the planet doesn’t know how or is unable to assert himself, at times, when his team needs him most. We saw it in Cleveland and we are seeing it now.
LeBron the Athlete still refuses to develop a post game, an asset that would have benefited him greatly this past series. Rick Carlisle put Jason Kidd on James knowing full well he would not make them pay for the move.
This brings us to LeBron the Brand, the most palpable of the three. LeBron the Brand is absolutely massive; a prodigious shadow cast across every inch of this world that knows about the NBA.
The brand expanded exponentially over this last year. This past free agency period, known as the summer of LeBron, brought unprecedented attention to the NBA during an offseason.
James’ move to join forces and form the Super Friends in Miami led to the most attention, buzz, hype, etc. ever paid to a single pro basketball team. He is the most polarizing figure in the league and is a constant draw. Never before has a single athlete generated this type of awareness.
Whether you love or hate LeBron and the Heat, you certainly have an opinion on them. This is a true testament to the team’s reach; they have transcended the normal structure of a team just playing a game.
And here in lies the problem. LeBron the brand is bigger and more important than LeBron the athlete, and that is not a winning formula.
In no way is LeBron, 26, done forming his legacy. It will continue to absorb game after game and storyline after storyline.
In all honesty, I believe that there is no possible way the Heat do not win at least one championship with this core. But as of now, LeBron’s legacy is stained with postseason performances that lacked passion—a cardinal sin in the eyes of fans.
As a basketball fan, I would have been much happier if he had gone down fighting. Instead, that blank look on LeBron’s face is what I will remember from this postseason.
When a star in the universe dies, it always goes out with a bang. I wish, at the very least, the same could be said of LeBron’s 2011 Playoffs.
To check out Part 1, go to http://bleacherreport.com/articles/733518-the-looming-legacies-part-one-lebron-james-and-dirk-nowitzki
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