As LeBron James walked off the court Sunday night, he missed a scene that he forever walked away from last summer.
The Dallas Mavericks had just won the NBA Championship on the back of their superstar and the role players built around him. For 13 years, Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks and the Dallas fanbase stuck together—through better and worse. Perseverance had finally paid off as they were rewarded with the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy.
The moment was too much for Nowitzki. He did not need showers of confetti, a hat or to tell a sideline reporter he was going to Disney World to help him realize what this moment meant. He just needed some time alone in the visitors’ locker room to reflect on the accomplishment—to reflect on the pure, unadulterated joy of the moment.
James may win a title some day, but he will never have that moment.
By teaming up with Dwyane Wade on Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat in search for an easier route to an NBA Championship, he forever lost the opportunity to experience Nowitzki’s night. To have all of your teammates standing behind him, knowing full well he was the reason they were up on that podium, that he was the reason they would be getting their first rings. To have a city back home filled with fans knowing he was the reason they would spend an entire offseason celebrating their first championship.
Rick Carlisle asked after the game: “How often do we have to hear about the LeBron James Reality Show? When are people going to talk about the purity of the game and what these guys accomplished?”
It’s a fair question. And Dallas deserves every piece of recognition and praise it gets (including Carlisle, who coached one hell of a playoffs).
But I think the story continues to circle around LeBron James for two reasons:
1) He represents a perfect dichotomy to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. It is hard to write about their story—NBA superstar free agent quietly re-signs with the team that drafted him, leads a team with no other all-stars to the franchise’s first championship—without mentioning LeBron James’ story—NBA superstar makes a spectacle of his free agency, spurns his hometown team that drafted him in an attempt to form a “super team” with two other all-star starting caliber players.
2) A two-time MVP crumbled under the pressure of the NBA Finals in epic proportions. Both on the court and off.
On the court, James’ fourth quarter follies have been so well documented in detailed statistical analyses that it would be better for me to just link a good one than to attempt my own. But what simply diving into numbers cannot see is the complete mental breakdown of James in these past three games.
LeBron James may not the best basketball player in the world, but he is the most talented.
So when the most talented player in the world is looking like a low-self-esteem pick up participant at the local YMCA—afraid to shoot or drive and passing the ball like a hot potato—it leaves you scratching your head.
But let me be clear, I feel no sympathy for LeBron. I do, however, have some confusion.
I thought LeBron James quit in last year’s Game 5 against the Celtics. The statistics were not all that bad, but he played timid and rarely looked for his own shot. Most of all, you could see it in his eyes. Disinterested. Detached. I was sure that he had already made up his mind to leave and this was his subconscious exit strategy.
Now? I’m not so sure. Maybe he really does have problem in big games of shrinking like a man who just jumped in ice water. But it is still hard to believe this is the same guy who torched the Pistons in his other famous Game 5 and looked like he was on his way to becoming an all-time great. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act is just bizarre.
His collapse off the court is just as revealing. With every sound bite, tweet and cough, LeBron continued to dig himself further and further away from reality.
When asked if he is troubled by the fact that NBA fans will relish his loss, he replied:
“Absolutely not. They have to wake up and have the same life that they had before they woke up today … the same personal problems. I’m going to continue to live the way that I want to live. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”
Translation: We will still wake up poor and meaningless as he will still wake up rich and famous.
For someone who wishes to build a global brand built on people who have to scrape up hard earned money for tickets, shoes and jerseys, that is an incredibly warped and shallow perspective.
And the fact that he insinuates that those fans will have to “get back to the real world” is ironic on too many levels since it is LeBron that is constantly looking to escape the reality of his own play with some new excuse.
In Cleveland, it was his teammates and it was Mike Brown.
In Miami, it was just that “sometimes shots don’t go in.”
Why didn’t the shots go in? James remarked that at this stage of his career, it’s definitely not technique. And said it with a subtle smirk that might hint that such an assertion would be ridiculous.
Later, James tweeted: “The Greater Man upstairs know when it’s my time. Right now isn’t the time.”
I don’t think he was blaming God directly for his poor shooting. But there is certainly an element of hiding behind a higher power. It assumes that it was God that dictated this was the Mavericks’ time. That it was not dictated by Nowitzki’s time in the gym, or Jason Kidd’s work ethic, or Shawn Marion’s defense, or Jason Terry’s irrational confidence or J.J. Barea’s grit.
No. It just was not LeBron James’ time. Simple as that.
On ESPN, Magic Johnson looked dumbfounded as he asked why he couldn’t just say something along the lines of: The Mavericks were the better team, I didn’t play at my best, this summer I will work my best to make sure it is difference next year.
It should be easy to handle the media, yet LeBron James still does not get it after eight years in the league.
In every way imaginable, he is running out of excuses.
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