Losing Finals Could Finally Change LeBron
Losing the 2011 NBA Finals may end up being the best thing for LeBron James. Now, before you jump off the plane, give me a chance to land it.
James has been called “King,” but he’s also been called “petulant,” “immature,” “self-absorbed,” and any other pejorative term Skip Bayless or Adrian Wojnarowski feel like hurling his way.
They’re all true.
LeBron James is, without question, the most talented player in the NBA today and yes Scottie, does have a chance to be as good as the NBA’s gold standard, Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
When we talk about LeBron there’s always a ‘but.’
“He won the MVP, but his team couldn’t win in the playoffs.”
“I don’t care he left Cleveland, but I hate the way he did it.”
“He’s a great player, but he doesn’t have a killer instinct.”
Ok, maybe you’re right, but now that can all change.
LeBron James ran the Cavaliers. Don’t blame Danny Ferry or Dan Gilbert or Mike Brown. They did their best.
James was the reason those guys got paid, because without James, the hometown hero, Cleveland would be just another NBA also-ran and their torture as the laughing stock of the sporting landscape would have continued.
He was defiant with coaches and administrators, immature as a player on and off the court and hit as many game winners as I did.
But just coming to Miami suggested a subtle change in LeBron James.
By going to “Wade” County, James was acquiescing to his best friend Dwyane Wade. LeBron was never going to try and take Wade’s team, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t still be the best player on the court.
He showed maturity in understanding he couldn’t do it alone, and further more, that he didn’t need to. He understood winning was the top goal.
When James left Cleveland in that awkward playoff malaise against Boston, the two-time MVP looked disengaged, sleep-walking through his final game in a Cavs uniform and yet still finished with a pretty spectacular stat line.
LeBron didn’t look disengaged in the Finals, he looked unsure. The most talented basketball player in the world was lacking confidence, seemingly lost and bewildered.
The honesty of his play in this Finals was breathtaking, as he was unable to hide the fact that the big stage along with Dallas’ defense had genuinely flustered the best player on the planet.
Watching him in the huddle late in the fourth of the deciding Game 6, he looked at coach Erik Spoelstra like a sophomore might look at his college coach, with genuine question, hoping his coach had the answer he’d been unable to provide.
See, LeBron James has relied solely on his own talent for so long, he was under the impression he got it, that he knew the game well enough that he didn’t have to listen.
He regularly broke from the called plays in favor of an isolation or pull-up jumper and because he made a great play so often, it was overlooked.
Great players do this all the time. Kobe does it. D-Wade does it. Rose does it.
To a man, teammates and coaches will say LeBron works hard in practice, is a vocal leader, and is as smart a player on the court as you’ll find. To a certain point, he does get it.
Watching James in the huddle next to Dwyane Wade was startling. Wade, having laid his body on the line every play, blocking shots and rebounding the way no player of his size ever has, served as a reminder Wade was, and always has been, maximizing his abilities as much as any player in the NBA.
If LeBron James can learn from Wade, and Spoelstra and even Chris Bosh – who had perhaps the most under-appreciated playoff run of any play this year – he can erase the ‘buts’ and any other conjunction you can think of.
LeBron James, early in the season, didn’t want to play power forward. Then, after prodding from his coach, James accepted the responsibility and the Heat went on that December tear. James’ ability to rebound with guys like Boozer and Noah eventually changed the Chicago series.
Then there were the minutes he played, the King complaining he was playing too many minutes. James played the whole second half for most of the Bulls and Celtics series and the Heat were a combined 10-2 in those series.
LeBron James’ game won him two trophy’s for his case but no rings for his fingers.
If James played with Dwyane Wade’s energy, or Chris Bosh’ efficiency he would have both.
If LeBron developed a post game, he’d be utterly unguardable, and if he played hard on defense like he did in the Chicago series, he’d the the Defensive Player of the Year every season.
That’s not hyperbole and that’s why James’ failures are frustrating to fans who love sports. James truly could be the best ever if he cared about working hard enough to do it.
But Game 6 of the Finals, the Heat’s loss, can be a seminal moment in LeBron James’ life if he chooses to realize his personal failings were the reason the Heat lost – rarely can you blame a series on a single player, but if James gives them anything in this series, it would have been over in four games.
LeBron James has been called many things, but rarely do you hear the word “accountable.” He told his teammates after a regular season loss to Chicago that he wouldn’t continue to fail them late in games.
He was right, until he wasn’t and he wasn’t the only time it truly mattered: with the Championship on the line.
For LeBron James to be an all-timer, to quiet the doubters and remove the ‘buts’ from the conversation, he has to be accountable.
The Miami Heat won three playoff series with stiffing defense, in part because LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were seemingly everywhere on the court.
Against Dallas, Wade was his normal active self, but not only was James not ‘everywhere,’ he was seemingly no where.
That’s on LeBron, not sportswriters, angry fans, so-called haters, or the Dallas Mavericks.
If he can accept his shortcomings and learn from them, pushing him to work harder and with more focus than ever before, then perhaps his pre-season bravado over winning multiple championships will be more prophetic than braggadocio.
The Miami Heat didn’t lose the championship because of what LeBron James did, but they didn’t win the Finals because of what LeBron James failed to do.
If he can learn the difference, there will championships instead of conjunctions.