Trying to understand LeBron

by Andrew Kennedy

LeBron James had the most inexcusable performance in the history of the NBA last night. He scored 8 points on 3-of-11 shooting in an 86-83 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The series is now tied at 2-2 but now LeBron has put himself in a no-win situation.

Before the season started all of the criticism of LeBron was well deserved and aimed appropriately. At least the real criticisms like he was taking the easy way out by going to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and the way he handled the whole “Decision.” As the season went on, people started to forget about why we really criticized LeBron. The Heat struggled and weren’t dominant so the focus shifted to simply this season, as it probably should. Heat and LeBron supporters started making their case for how LeBron and Miami would shut up the haters by winning a championship this season despite their struggles and everything before the season started. Well, that’s not what it’s about, not at all.

It’s always been about LeBron’s legacy. That’s the NBA for you. If the Heat win one title this season it really means nothing. It’s more about how they win it and also if they win 3 or 4 like they should. Winning once would definitely be a failure for this franchise with Wade, Bosh and LeBron (in that order). To think they would become a dynasty by winning the first season is ridiculous also because Wade can’t realistically have more than 3 or 4 years left in him at this level, Bosh is soft and LeBron has no desire to get better individually. If they’re going to become a dynasty, it’s going to rely so much on the supporting cast than anyone ever thought. They basically need to get Joakim Noah or Greg Oden and then I’ll give them a shot.

Back to the original point, it doesn’t matter if the Heat win this year and LeBron plays the way he has these Finals. That will prove all of the haters right. LeBron couldn’t do it by himself, he joined a near equal in Wade, and Wade carried the team to a title as LeBron choked down the stretch. I don’t care how big LeBron was in the Conference Finals or against Boston, he still needed Wade and even Bosh to get to the Finals and has been the opposite of clutch during the Finals.

Why is LeBron choking like this? Something must seriously be wrong with him. Watching the game last night was so reminiscent of the Boston series last year when you just noticed something didn’t seem right with LeBron but couldn’t put your finger on it. We all eventually chalked it up to him quitting because he knew he couldn’t beat the Celtics and him knowing he would be joining Wade the next season. Maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe he just really chokes or really doesn’t believe in himself or is really scared or insecure in these big moments.

I’m sticking to my theory all along about LeBron. The main problem is that we expect him to have the same killer instinct and obsessive competitive streak that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant had. This is more unfair than we realize. Jordan was the first player ever to truly have this and to have it at the level that he did. He got in fights with Will Perdue in practice after scrimmages and while that may not be healthy, that’s kind of what it takes to be that kind of winner.

So after 35 years or so of the NBA we get one guy like that. Then somehow another emerges very shortly after in Kobe. He’s not on the same level athletically or as skilled as Jordan but it’s close enough and works to a lesser degree. Now we expect every perimeter player that comes in and is super talented to be the same way mentally as Jordan and Kobe. LeBron is not even close to that kind of guy. In fact he has so little of this in him, even less than your average professional athlete or male human being it seems.

Combine this with the fact that LeBron has been in the spotlight and under a microscope his whole life, he never went to college and didn’t ever learn how to play well with other primary ball handlers or accept the coaching hierarchy, and is a very cerebral player and person and this is what you get.

Why does LeBron always say he wants to be more of a Magic Johnson than MJ type?

That is basically saying you do not want to be as good as you can be. It’s not even like LeBron grew up watching Magic and knows how to play like him. He was born in 1985. Oh, but I’m sure he had the entire NBA archives at his disposal when he was 7 years old. He’s clueless to what he needs to do to be great. He has all of the tools physically and he’s a smart and capable player but he has no guidance because he’s never needed it to succeed before.

Does he need Phil Jackson?

Is Phil an even greater coach then we thought simply by watching LeBron? Couldn’t Phil figure out LeBron’s buttons and how to push him to another level? Maybe that’s the other ingredient to MJ and Kobe that we always overlook. We expect that they could have won at least some without Phil but maybe not.

Is LeBron too smart in a way?

I hate saying this but he does some really smart things on the court and his smarts contribute as much as anything to how efficient he normally is as a player. I mean, it is smart to try and facilitate when you have guys like Wade and Bosh on your team. It’s smart to try and be the defensive stopper. But it’s dumb as hell to take 11 shots in 46 minutes in Game 4. He just doesn’t get it at the end of the day. It’s like he never even wanted to get it. He has always wanted to be part of a team it seems than the individual (although he does say his ultimate goal is to become a global icon).

Is this the first guy that seems to grasp The Secret (from Bill Simmons’ book) and it’s a bad thing?

He seems like he genuinely wants to take pride and pleasure in others’ successes. He is all about The Choice as Bill Walton called it. He chooses to sacrifice for the greater good to win. The problem is that when you sacrifice, it is not always for the greater good. Just because you sacrifice doesn’t mean you get The Secret or The Choice. You have to understand when and why to sacrifice and when to take responsibility and take over. He doesn’t get it yet.

If I’m LeBron, or a Heat fan, I know that the best thing for him is to lose this series to the Mavericks. If he wants to become as good as he can be and reach his potential he needs to lose this year. I can just picture him celebrating a Game 6 win after scoring 26 points and thinking that all is now well because the Heat won this year. That’s not the case at all. You can’t accomplish something if you were not to do it, it would be considered a failure.

LeBron needs to lose with this bad performance and then have a summer and potentially a lockout to really reflect on himself and what he needs to do. It’s not about who he surrounds himself with, it’s about LeBron and it always will be. He needs to spend the offseason seeking out Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He needs to go to them for help. He needs to sit down and listen to them, really listen, as they tell him about what it took to become a champion. He needs to go to them like he’s a rookie just entering the league that has never accomplished anything in his life. He needs to go to guys like that and have no ego about it.

But none of this will happen if the Heat win this year. And we have the ultimate YMCA team standing in their way, go figure. But I know I can sleep easy now because LeBron scored 8 points in Game 4. He’s still who I thought he was. Until that changes, he can never win anything.