It’s been well over 24 hours since the conclusion of Game 4 of the NBA Finals. In the time between then and now almost anyone and everyone has weighed in on what exactly we all saw and why we saw it in the first place. Of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you’d realize that I’m referring to the performance of LeBron James.
Literally everyone has jumped into the pool to voice their opinion on why they think LeBron crapped the bed. Normally I’d be right there with everyone else, wading through the kiddie area and into the deep end, but given the situation and circumstances surrounding them I needed time to digest everything. I didn’t want to pile on, as easy as that would be. I didn’t want to formulate the same basic opinion as everyone else that would essentially be lost as white noise.
Anyone who pays attention to this site knows that I am a die-hard Clevelander to the core. I haven’t held back in my unabashed displeasure with all things LeBron James since July 7, 2010. It would be easy and even enjoyable to sit here and bash him as a loser and a choke artist. If and when they finally fall to the Mavs I’ll probably do that. The Clevelander in me wants to make fun of him and tear him to bits.
The basketball fan in me is just saddened by everything and this time around I’m taking the high road. I’m not going to defend LeBron by any means, but I want to explain what we all “witnessed” on Tuesday night. I know, I’m as shocked as the rest of you, but I’ve really thought this one through.
LeBron James isn’t having fun playing basketball anymore. It’s as simple as that. Allow me to explain.
Look back at LeBron’s career, even coming out of high school. He loved basketball. He loved playing it. He loved talking about it. It’s what LeBron James was put on this planet to do. Watching him play was a blast and for seven years Cavs games became the social event in Cleveland. NBA Basketball was a giant party with James serving as the master of ceremonies on a nightly basis. LeBron even parlayed his fun-loving persona into endorsements for bubble gum of all things.
But in 2007 everything changed. The Cavs and LeBron exceeded expectations and made the finals. In the Process, LeBron elevated his play to Jordanesque proportions. Does the 48 Special ring a bell to anyone? Watching that clip now it’s hard to believe it’s the same player. In reality, the Cavs made the finals too soon. They were swept by the Spurs and every subsequent season was filled with bigger and better expectations. It was never the same. Sure the regular seasons were fun, but that’s because LeBron and the Cavs made them that way. Dancing on the sidelines, taking pretend team photos, and even going to movies together. Those teams between ’07 and ’10 were fun.
However, each and every year after the regular season talk surfaced of flipping the switch so to speak. It was time to get serious once the playoffs started. Each year the team and LeBron played tighter, sensing that the weight of the world was on their shoulders. A lot of it was self placed, and even more of it thanks to Cleveland and the media. Watch the 48 Special clip again. LeBron was having a blast willing that team to victory and taking over. He thoroughly enjoyed eviscerating the Pistons dynasty that night, almost like Dexter Morgan digging into the Trinity Killer. Meanwhile, in ’08 LeBron and the Cavs lost a hard-fought series to Boston earlier than anyone expected. In ’09 they were upset by Orlando and LeBron refused to shake hands. In ’10 “Game 5” and the jersey removal after game 6 happened. The game and LeBron had both changed…
This wasn’t fun anymore. LeBron wasn’t having fun anymore. The pressure had gotten the best of him after three years of not being good enough and not being able to meet the ever-growing expectations of being LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Being a basketball player officially became a job. His comments about how sometimes he “spoiled us with his play” reek of unhappiness in retrospect. We refused to see it.
It’s for that reason I’ve come to believe “The Decision” happened more to gain what LeBron James had lost rather than what he had failed to gain. In high school, LeBron’s team was a family comprising his closest friends. Despite the bond he had formed with his teammates in Cleveland, he missed having fun with his buddies on the basketball court. That’s why he joined forces with Wade and Bosh. Play in Miami with two of his closest friends in the league and win a championship in the process? What wouldn’t be fun about that?
As it turns out… nothing about it has been fun. With the decision LeBron alienated himself from about 99% of NBA fans outside of Miami. He used to be cheered everywhere. Now he’s getting booed. Reporters across the country analyze his every move and every comment looking to twist and turn them to fill their own agendas against the new big three. Every game from game 1 of the season up through Tuesday has been a playoff game with the opposition looking to embarrass them. It’s been a season of questioning, hatred, and even greater expectations, not certainty, love and praise.
In other words, 2010-2011 hasn’t been very much fun for LeBron James on a basketball court. There has been no dancing, no birthday parties and pregame mock photos and skits. It’s been all business. Show up. Play a game. Get booed. Go to the presser. Repeat. It all came to a head in games 3 and 4.
LeBron James, arguably the best player on the planet, found himself getting his ass chewed into by Dwyane Wade in game 3 in much the same way Michael Jordan had done to his teammates so often in the 90’s. This isn’t what LeBron signed up for. He didn’t join the Heat to be the man, but he also didn’t join the Heat to let Dwyane Wade make a fool of him. Wade would go on to prove that he’ll run to hell and back twice to win the title and he doesn’t care who he has to trample in the process. LeBron, Bosh, Spoelstra, it doesn’t matter. Wade is channeling his inner Jordan.
Everyone wants to say LeBron has fallen into the role of Pippen in this series. I’m sorry, Pippen wouldn’t have had Jordan rip into him like that. Jordan wouldn’t have had to. Instead, LeBron checked out towards the end of game 3 and never really showed up for game 4. He hid in the corner and looked to get rid of the ball before he had a chance to think about making a move. In game 4 he scored 8 points and took one shot in the 4th. That should never have happened. LeBron did nothing. I’m pretty sure 2007 LeBron would love to kick 2011 LeBron’s ass if given the opportunity. He’s embarrassing himself and making a mockery of his past accomplishments and everyone knows it. Wade knows it, Bosh knows it, and unfortunately for the Heat, Dirk Nowitzki knows it.
So did LeBron choke in game 4? Did LeBron choke last year in game 5? I don’t know, it’s possible depending on how you want to look at it. All I know is that when I look at LeBron James I see a person who is not enjoying what he does anymore, at least not the way he did. Can he find a way to get back to being the player he’s always been? Maybe. He has the rest of today to try and figure that out. He needs to dig down deep and find fun LeBron.
If not, it could be another long day at the office for LeBron James and the Heat…