Sometimes it is a single moment that can define a player's career. No matter how the rest of their career unfolds, players are inevitably linked to that one moment when they either rose or collapsed under the pressure of the situation.
LeBron James has been getting a lot of criticism for his performance in the NBA Finals. You can say the media is blowing it out of proportion, but you can't argue with the significant statistical drop-off that he suffered in the fourth quarter of Finals games.
There were several moments when LeBron could have seized the moment and proved his doubters wrong, but instead he floundered and his legacy, for now, is that of a player who shrinks in the big moment.
Things may change for LeBron if he wins a title (or 6 or 7), but for now his status is cemented based on the 2011 Finals.
Let's take a look at 10 players who found a way to get the job done and 10 that failed to come through in the clutch.
The 1988 Oakland A's were heavy favorites to defeat an L.A. Dodgers team whose best player and that seaon's MVP, Kirk Gibson, was banged up due to injury.
We all get to see the replay every October, so we know the story. In the bottom of the ninth, trailing by one, Gibson is called to pinch hit against the nearly un-hittable Dennis Eckersley. Mike Davis drawn a walk before Gibson, so the winning run was now at the plate.
Gibson hobbles out of the dugout and into the batter's box, looks horrible on a few swings before hammering a 3-2 hanging slider into the right field stands for a game-winning home run.
It was only Game 1, but it set the tone for the rest of the series as the Dodgers went on to win, 4-1.
I know you've seen the home run a million times, but if you have some time watch the whole inning unfold here. Goosebumps.
After struggling in the first year of his $119-million contract with the New York Mets in 2005, Carlos Beltran hit his stride (and National League pitching) in 2006 with 41 home runs and 116 RBI.
Based on his performance in the 2004 playoffs with the Astros, Beltran was expected to lead the Mets back to the World Series in 2006.
In Game 7 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets found themselves trailing 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth after a Yadier Molina home run.
The Mets managed to load the bases against Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright, and with two outs Beltran strode to the plate to raucous cheers from the Mets faithful. If there was anyone they wanted at the plate in this situation, it was Beltran.
The rest is history. Beltran struck out on three pitches without even swinging the bat and the Mets were sent packing.
The Cardinals wound up winning the World Series while Beltran has officially achieved "bum" status in New York.
On December 21, 2003, Brett Favre had to deal with one of the hardest things a person has to deal with: the loss of his father.
The Packers were set to play a Monday Night Football game the following night, and of course nobody would question Favre if he decided to skip the game to be with his family.
Not only did Favre play, but he also put on one of the best performances of his career. Favre passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns as the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders, 41-7.
The fans have been told for a long time that Tony Romo is the quarterback that's going to lead them back to the Super Bowl.
He's not helping his case with plays like this. The Cowboys were a 19-yard field goal away from winning their playoff game against the Seahawks in 2007. This time it wasn't the kicker who messed up, but the holder.
Some teams have the punter hold, while others have a special player designated for it. The Cowboys allowed Tony Romo to hold this one...or attempt to hold it.
Romo couldn't get a grip on the ball and the kick was never attempted. Time ran out and the Cowboys' season was over.
Romo still has time to make a Super Bowl appearance, but as of now he will be remembered as the quarterback who couldn't get it done in a big moment.
Michael Jordan, by most accounts, is the best basketball player of all time. Would we think that had he missed his final shot as a Chicago Bull?
We'll never know because, being the clutch player that he was, Jordan made the game-winner to give the Bulls their sixth championship in eight years.
People knew Michael Jordan was going to be a good NBA player, but they got a glimpse of his clutch abilities when he hit the game-winning shot with 16 seconds left against Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA Championship game.
Of course, that might not have been the game-winning shot had Georgetown guard Fred Brown not passed the ball to North Carolina's James Worthy on the ensuing possession. (The NCAA has disabled the embedding of their video, but you can watch it here.)
Worthy was fouled and missed the free throw but all Georgetown could muster was a Hail Mary at the buzzer.
Georgetown lost and Michael Jordan started a grand tradition of beating Patrick Ewing's teams, but all of that may not have happened if Fred Brown had looked before he passed.
Adam Vinatieri is the anti-Scott Norwood. And while Tom Brady could be on this list for multiple game-winning drives, his ultimate Man Up Moment came during Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.
After the heavily favored St. Louis Rams tied the game, 17-17, with a minute and a half remaining in the game, it appeared as if we were headed toward the first overtime Super Bowl in history.
The Patriots had no timeouts remaining and commentator John Madden suggested that they run out the clock and try to win in overtime. Brady had other plans.
Brady marched his team down field by completing pass after pass and managed the clock perfectly. His last completion to Jermaine Wiggins set the Patriots up for a 48-yard field goal.
Adam Vinatieri, in the most stressful situation a kicker can face, lined up for the 48-yarder and drilled it through the uprights as time expired. It gave the Patriots their first Super Bowl victory and cemented the legacies of both Brady and Vinatieri in football history.
Just in case you thought it was a fluke, pretty much the same thing happened in the 2004 Super Bowl.
I really don't need to say anything more than "wide right", but I'll indulge those that may not know the story.
The Buffalo Bills trailed the New York Giants, 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV in 1991. The Bills made it into Giants territory and, with eight seconds left, decided to put their hopes in the right foot of kicker Scott Norwood.
The 47-yard attempt was considered to be the cusp of Norwood's range, but coach Marv Levy decided that it was his team's best shot at victory.
As we all know, the kick sailed wide right, the Bills experienced their first of four consecutive Super Bowl losses, and the city set a record for most Buffalo Wings consumed in a 24-hour period.
The 2004 Boston Red Sox ended their 86-year World Series drought in dramatic fashion by coming back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
Part of the reason for the Red Sox unprecedented comeback were the heroics of Curt Schilling. After being diagnosed with a ruptured tendon sheath in his right ankle, Schilling was expected to miss the rest of the playoffs.
Instead the doctors made a "wall of stitches" around his ankle to keep the tendon in place. The result was an epic Game Six in Yankee Stadium, when Schilling held the Yankees to just one run over seven innings to lead the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory.
During the game, blood from Schilling's ankle seeped through his sock, leaving a visible reminder of Schilling's extraordinary effort.
You can now see the bloody sock both in the Baseball Hall of Fame and in recordings in the homes of Boston residents.
Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams was never the most consistent closer for the Philadelphia Phillies, but he put up some impressive numbers over his career, including a career-high 43 saves in 1993.
That same season, the Phillies made it all the way to the World Series and were on the brink of elimination against the Toronto Blue Jays when they brought in Williams in the ninth to protect a 6-5 lead and force a Game 7.
The inning started off horribly for Williams, who put two runners on base with just one out...and things got even worse when Joe Carter stepped to the plate.
Carter ripped a 2-2 slider deep to left field and over the wall for a walk-off, World Series-winning three-run home run.
While Carter went on to legendary status in Toronto and around the league, Williams' career imploded and his name is forever associated with failure.
Robert Horry didn't get the nickname, "Big Shot Bob" for nothing. He's made several clutch baskets in his career, but if you're going to choose one that defined his career you'd have to go with the three-pointer he made against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.
The Kings looked like the team that could finally dethrone the Lakers. In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Kings held onto a 99-97 lead in the final seconds.
The Kings already led the series 2-1, and a Lakers loss would mean they would have to win three straight games, two of which would be in Sacramento.
With seven seconds left, Kobe Bryant drove down the lane and missed a floater. It was rebounded by Shaquille O'Neal who uncharacteristically missed the put back layup. In an effort to get the ball away from the basket, Kings center Vlade Divac tipped the ball towards the three-point line, but it just so happened to fall directly into the hands of Horry.
Without hesitation Horry put up the shot, hit nothing but net, and tied the series at two games apiece. The Lakers won the series in seven games and went on to win their third straight NBA title.
Chris Webber was one of the best college basketball player in the country in 1993 when he and the rest of his Fab Five teammates led Michigan to the National Championship game against UNC.
Unfortunately for Webber, with the game on the line in the final seconds and his team trailing by two, he first traveled (which wasn't called) and then dribbled down court and called a timeout (which his team didn't have).
UNC made the free throws, putting the game out of reach and ending Webber's college career in an inauspicious manner.
Even after a solid NBA career, when you think of Chris Webber you still think of the timeout.
Hockey is Canada's national sport, so when the Winter Olympics began in Vancouver in 2010, the Canadian hockey team was not only favored, but expected, to win the gold medal.
Despite an upset loss to the United States in the early rounds, Canada made it all the way to the finals in a rematch against the U.S.
The game was tied after regulation and went into sudden-death overtime, when the first player to score a goal would forever be idolized in Olympic sports montages.
Sure enough Sidney Crosby, Canada's native son and one of the best hockey players on the planet, scored the game winner and won the gold medal for the Canadians in their own Olympics.
Could it have turned out any other way?
In case you were wondering how much Canadians (and everyone else) expected their team to win, just take a look at the headline from the next day's Vancouver Sun.
Boise State had been upset for years that they hadn't received a national title shot because they played in a weak conference.
In 2010, they headed into the last game of the regular season against Nevada undefeated—a win would give them a legitimate shot at the BCS National Championship game.
They had their chance at the end of regulation. All kicker Kyle Brotzman had to do was make a 26-yard field goal, something every high schooler playing around on the field after a game has done in his life.
He missed, and the game went into overtime. There Brotzman got a shot at redemption, a 29-yarder that would put the Broncos up by three.
He missed that one, too.
Nevada went down and kicked a field goal to win the game, Boise State's national championship hopes went up in flames, and Kyle Brotzman's name will forever be cursed in Boise.
The 1997 Florida Marlins shocked the baseball world by making it to the World Series in just their fifth season as a franchise.
In a hard fought battle with the Cleveland Indians, the series went to extra innings in the deciding Game 7.
In the bottom of the eleventh, with the game tied 2-2, Renteria's situation couldn't have been scripted better. The bases were loaded with two outs, meaning any type of hit would win the World Series.
Renteria took a Charles Nagy slider and lined it into center field, scoring Craig Counsell and giving the Marlins their first World Series victory.
Renteria will always be remembered in World Series history, not just for this performance but also for his MVP performance 13 years later with the San Francisco Giants.
Alex Rodriguez had a clutch playoff run in 2009 and led the Yankees to the title, so his legacy might have changed, but there's no way I could have a "Man Down" category without including this ridiculous spectacle.
It was Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. The Yankees had been up 3-0 on their rival Red Sox and had famously blown leads in Game 4 and Game 5 to put the pressure back onto the Yankees in the Bronx.
Trailing 4-2 against reliever Bronson Arroyo, Alex Rodriguez took a mighty hack and hit a weak dribbler down the first base line. Arroyo picked up the ball with his glove and went to tag Rodriguez, but A-Rod wasn't having any of that.
A-Rod took a swing at the ball in what would come to be known as "The Slap" and knocked the ball loose. At first he was elated to have reached base safely, but the umpires got together and called Rodriguez out for obstruction.
It was only a matter of hours before the incident blew up on the Internet, calling A-Rod various effeminate names and using Photoshop to create some less-than-flattering images.
If A-Rod had to do it over again I'm guessing he would have just taken the tag...or at least punched Arroyo in the face...anything but a slap...
In 2011, Dirk Nowitzki had long since proven himself as one of the most unique and talented offensive players in the history of the game, but playoff losses had caused him to be labeled as "soft" and a "choke artist."
That all seemed to go out the window during the opening rounds of the Western Conference Playoffs, when Dirk led his aging Mavericks to convincing victories over the Trail Blazers, Lakers, and Thunder. Dirk was putting on one of the best displays in the history of the NBA, but as much as people wanted to believe that Dirk had turned the corner he had one more hurdle to overcome.
In a rematch of the 2006 Finals against the Miami Heat, a series for which Dirk was criticized for allowing the Heat to overcome a 0-2 deficit, Dirk proved that his clutch performance in the early rounds was no fluke.
Nowitzki, despite being double teamed constantly, managed to lead the Mavericks to their first NBA title. He is now being compared to Larry Bird instead of Tom Chambers.
The roller coaster drama that was the 2010-11 Miami Heat, after all their problems, ended up right where they wanted to be: in the NBA Finals.
A big reason they got there was LeBron James' unbelievable play against the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls.
In the finals, however, LeBron saw a staggering drop-off in production...particularly in the fourth quarter. James scored just 11 total points in the final periods of the first five games, and finished with seven in the fourth as the Heat went down in Game 6.
There has been a maelstrom of debate everywhere from sports bars to government buildings about what happened to LeBron, but for now the consensus is that he just wasn't ready to man up.
In 2008 Roger Federer was widely considered to be the best tennis player in the world, and possibly of all time.
His only challenge was a pesky Spaniard named Rafael Nadal, who Federer could not seem to beat on clay. Nadal had beaten Federer in the previous three French Open finals.
Federer and Nadal met in the finals of Wimbledon that year, where Federer was expected to win on the fast, grass surface. After all, Federer had defeated Nadal in the previous two Wimbledon Finals.
What ensued is arguably the best tennis match of all time, as both players pulled out miraculous shot after miraculous shot through a five-set war.
The battle went on into dusk and officials considered suspending the match due to darkness, but ultimately Nadal proved too much for Federer, winning the match and the Wimbledon championship, 6–4, 6–4, 6–7(5), 6–7(8), 9–7.
This was a turning point for Nadal, who proved that he could win on a surface other than clay. Since 2008 Nadal has won five Grand Slam titles, giving him a total of 10, and he has now completed the career Grand Slam at the age of 25.
He is also well on his way to passing Federer on the list of greatest tennis players of all time.
Usually you can point to one moment that an athlete would like to go back and change. But for Greg Norman, it's pretty much the whole day.
The Australian golfer known as "The Shark" entered his final round at the 1996 Masters up six shots on his closest competitor, Nick Faldo.
Nobody is quite sure what happened, but Norman played terribly on the final day and saw his six-shot lead evaporated after just nine holes.
Norman shot a 77 for the day, lost the Masters, and was never in contention for the green jacket again.
Maybe we need another name for a mulligan for an entire round. How about a "Norman"?