2011 NBA Finals: LeBron James Again Shrinks from Spotlight

Greg Eno@@GregEnoSenior Analyst IJune 13, 2011

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 12:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts in the fourth quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Six of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 12, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Nearly a year after we had The Decision, we need to have The Incision.

How else are we going to find out if LeBron James has heart? Or guts? Or brains?

Those things certainly didn’t materialize on the hardwood of the NBA Finals, where Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks stormed into Miami and took, right from under James’s nose, that which LeBron has long desired but clearly has no idea how to attain—an NBA championship.

This was supposed to be the coronation of a King, but we found out that James is instead an emperor with no clothes.

James fled Cleveland last summer, turning his back on his hometown, conspiring with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a trio of stars that LeBron saw as a fast track to a ring. His 2007 Cavaliers were outclassed in the Finals by the San Antonio Spurs, and subsequent Cavs teams fell short of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, a round or two shy of the Finals, largely because of James’s confounding disappearing acts in the most crucial of times.

But all is forgotten and forgiven once you win. After you win the title, everything prior to that is conveniently filed under “learning experience.” Sometimes you can even manage to be portrayed as having lived a hardscrabble NBA life, culminating in that previously elusive championship, thanks to the requisite blood, sweat and tears.

LeBron James’s days of fooling even the foolish are over. He is fraudulent—a paper lion, if you will. He’s a player with shoulders that narrow and a heart that shrinks in the most important games of his life. He quit on the Cavs last year, “took his talents to South Beach”—and won’t those soon become some of the most notorious, inglorious words ever spoken by a pro athlete?—and tried to take cuts in line.

How much more moronic does Scottie Pippen look this morning?

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Pippen caused a stir recently when he suggested that James might be better than even Michael Jordan—Scottie’s old teammate, six-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP.

What else, Scottie? Saccarin is better than sugar? “Caddyshack II” was a better gift to motion pictures than its predecessor?

The Heat showed flashes of greatness in these playoffs, and James played OK for stretches of time. But Jordan’s jockstrap dwarfs LeBron’s hands.

James’s supporters believed he would eventually take over one of the Finals games, loading the Heat onto his back and almost single-handedly beating the Mavs. You know, like how Michael Jordan did in big games.

Those folks are still waiting.

“It’s now or never,” James tweeted after the Heat lost Game 5 in Dallas.

Well, “now” just left town. All that’s left is the booby prize of bad Karma.

Shed no tears for the phony superstar who didn’t even have the decency to shake hands with his vanquishers following the 105-95 loss in Game 6 Sunday night. Cry not for James and his failed mission. Don’t you dare try to aggrandize his quest by attaching to it even a shred of valor.

James wanted this. He wanted the biggest stage, once again, on which to showcase his skills. He wanted to validate his place in the annals of NBA history.

Well, he got it, and when the heat—pun intended—got ramped up, LeBron shriveled like newspaper tossed into a fire.

Where WAS he, anyway? He missed a good series. As soon as you find his fourth quarter production, let us know.

The Mavericks, on the other hand, played like the more desperate, more driven team that was truly on a mission, and they were. For five years, Nowitzki and Jason Terry have relived those awful memories of the 2006 Finals, when the Mavs darted to a 2-0 series lead and had Wade’s Heat on the ropes in Game 3, before Miami stormed back to snatch the championship.

That was Dwyane Wade’s team then, and it still is, today.

That’s what makes this Finals loss by the Heat all the more hilarious in its irony.

James made a mockery of his free agent choice last July with the whole made-for-TV thing as he slowly eviscerated the Cavaliers and their fans. But you want to know the punch line?

James left Cleveland for Miami and he did so to be a caddy for Wade. Don’t buy if someone tries to sell you that James’s decision was proof of his team-first mentality—that he doesn’t need to be “the guy.”

It’s not that James doesn’t need to be the guy—he doesn’t want to be. Which is just as well, because he’s incapable.

The Heat are still Dwyane Wade’s team, but wait, there’s more.

It’s Wade’s team and yet LeBron James will get all the flak for this series loss, as he should.

So let’s get this straight. James leaves Cleveland, where he was “the guy,” goes to Miami so he doesn’t have to be–so he can win a championship—and is still expected to be some semblance of “the guy,” but he’s derelict in that duty and gets all the blame normally assigned to “the guy.”

Some Decision, LeBron.

James has lost on more fronts in this whole escapade than Custer did on his last stand.

James was a cockroach in the Finals—scurrying away as soon as the lights got turned on.

Yet he still had a shot at redemption, despite the Game 5 loss in Dallas. LeBron had, potentially, two chances to rescue his legacy. Two chances to be something that he’s never really been: a clutch player who could kill, with one stone, the two birds of doubt and derision by lifting the Heat past the Mavericks in seven games.

James’s critics would have had a sweat sock stuffed into their mouths. No longer would they have been able to say, “LeBron can’t win the big ones.”

Today, they not only can still say it, it’s going to shouted from the rooftops—splashed all over the Internet and burning up the phone lines of all the sports talk radio stations across the country. This isn’t going to blow over in a few days.

Despite our fascination and fanaticism about sports, we still have a hard time remembering the names of the teams who finish as the first runners-up in any championship round. It’s not that we can’t—just that it sometimes takes some brain-racking.

Not so this time.

The Miami Heat won’t soon live this one down, folks. Maybe not ever. History, me thinks, will be in a cranky mood when it passes judgment on the 2010-11 Miami Heat—the team LeBron James couldn’t wait to join. The team that so easily seduced him, but that he also disappointed by leaving—during the NBA Finals.

Until he wins a championship—and there’s no guarantee that he ever will—LeBron James should go down as one of the most laughable “superstars” that pro sports has ever seen. He should go down as a less-than-brilliant, heartless, gutless player who managed to fool his public even while hiding in plain sight.

But LeBron didn’t just fool them—he failed them.

His name doesn’t belong in the same sentence as Michael Jordan’s, unless it’s to create a grocery list of reasons why it doesn’t.

Here’s to you, Cleveland Cavaliers fans. You had to wait almost a year for this. God bless you.


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