Ever since LeBron James has taken his talents to South Beach, the magnifying glass of every move he makes and how he is covered by media has increased exponentially, which is fairly amazing considering how big that glass already was.
Forget about the regular season, let's focus on the playoffs where LeBron began to rebuild his post-season reputation as Miami tore through the Eastern Conference. He wasn't timid down the stretch of games. He was hitting big shot after big shot. You couldn't have watched the first three Miami rounds and say the Heat weren't now led by James who was washing away the stains of his no show in the final minutes of the Cleveland/Boston series last year.
The Eastern Conference Finals are nice but legends aren't made by conference championships. The NBA Finals are where the stories of the great ones are truly written. Coming into this year, LeBron had a 0-4 record in the Finals but you can give him pass on getting swept by the mini-Spurs dynasty, considering his age and how awful his supporting cast was.
LeBronshowed up in game one, leading the way with 24 points, 5 assists, 9 rebounds and tenacious defense. He was active in the fourth quarter. Game two, he fell back a little bit. as Dwyane Wade took charge with 36 points. LeBron chipped in 20 but was a little more quiet down the stretch. Game three was a Heat victory, but LeBron was down to 17 points on only 14 shots. It was Dwyane Wade going shot for shot with Dirk Nowitzki in the final minutes. It was Dwyane Wade barking at teammates and it was Dwyane Wade talking about how he wasn't going to let "his" team lose in game three.
A rash of LeBron apologist articles came out after game three, defending his performance, pointing to his 9 assists, strong defense and smart pass to Chris Bosh late in the game, setting up the game winning basket. Fair enough, LeBron is an all-around basketball player but why did he look so timid in those final minutes. How come Mario Chalmers looks more comfortable with the ball when it counts the most? Could Miami win this series if LeBron was going to act like a role player instead of a superstar?
They couldn't do it in game four, when LeBron, who took 16 shots in game one, then 15 shots in game two, then 14 shots in game three, was now down to 11 shots, only making 3 of them and finishing with 8 points. 8 points, really? DeShawn Stevenson is going to outscore LeBron in a NBA Finals game and that is supposed to be acceptable because he had 9 rebounds and 7 assists?
The problem with LeBron's performance is that he looked detached. He stood in the corner and watched Dwyane Wade put Miami on his back and ultimately fall short in leading them to a win. LeBron was a firsthand witness to Wade and Nowitzki, two players looking desperate to win a NBA title, two players carving out their legacy with gutsy performances, and couldn't find it within himself to get in on the act. Wade was run down by the end of game, missing a key free throw and droppinga big inbounds pass. Shame on him, but at least as he put it "left everything on the floor." LeBron James didn't.
One of my favorite NBA stories, is how Phil Jackson helped coax Michael Jordan out of retirment (the first one) and back on to the Bulls. He reminded Jordan that he had a gift and he had a responsibility to share that gift with the world. Similar to an artist with immense talent to paint or write, Jordan's basketball skills and competitive drive shouldn't be wasted.
LeBron James is arguably the most gifted athlete in the world. He is without question the most gifted basketball player in the world. People get so worked up about his actions because we want to see him reach that immense potential that he has been blessed with. It infuriates and confuses people to see somebody so talented, look so disinterested on the biggest stage in their profession. Why won't LeBrongo get the ball and seize the NBA title that is right in front him? Why is he so willing to stand pat and let a clearly inferior Dallas team potentially take it from him?
As of today, when the book is written in the 2011 NBA Finals. We will remember Dirk Nowitzki heroically playing through injury and sickness, while willing a weak supporting cast to multiple victories and maybe a title. We will remember Dwyane Wade showing that he saves his best for the biggest spot. We will also remember LeBron James being a bystander in the biggest moments of the series.
Fortunately for LeBron, there is still time to rewrite that book and change how history remembers him. He doesn't have to be a role player who occasionally throws up fade away jump shots. He can use his talents, which he so famously took to South Beach, to change the course of this series and his legacy.