I am not a LeBron James fan. In fact, since The Decision last summer, I can’t remember writing a single positive thing about him. Regardless, I feel compelled to stand up for LeBron. Here’s why.
Following the Miami Heat’s victory in Game 3 of the 2011 NBA Finals, a journalist from CBS Sports (Gregg Doyel) bush-leagued LeBron at his post game press conference. Essentially, Doyel asked LeBron why he’d been shrinking in the 4th quarter throughout the NBA Finals. To his credit, LeBron responded professionally, stating that, although he wasn’t scoring, he was contributing, especially on the defensive end. LeBron also offered Doyel this gem; “You should watch the film again and see what I did defensively. You’ll ask me a better question tomorrow.”
Doyel (obviously) didn’t change his story after the press conference. He proceeded to post a column titled; LeBron James: Story of an incredibly shrinking superstar. (Perhaps we need an “It Gets Better Project” for bullied youngsters like Doyel. But I digress.)
Doyel argued throughout his column that LeBron James is no superstar. That he’s consistently been a non-factor in the most crucial moments of the NBA Finals. That no superstar is just a defensive stopper. To some degree, Doyel is right. Michael Jordan got it done at both ends of the floor. So did Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Bill Russell, and Kevin Garnett. But what Doyel forgets is that LeBron James is the reason the Miami Heat are in the NBA Finals to begin with.
How quickly we forget that LeBron manhandled the Boston Celtics, single-handedly slamming the door on Boston’s season with a 10-0 run of his own to close out Game 5. How quickly we forget that it was James, not Dwyane Wade, who terrorized Derrick Rose in the 4th quarter AND consistently buried crucial jumpers throughout the Eastern Conference Finals. When the Heat needed a bucket, they got it from LeBron. Not Wade. How quickly we forget that LeBron is dealing with more scrutiny, backlash, and blatant hatred than Wade and Chris Bosh combined, yet still should have won the NBA’s MVP award. How quickly we forget LeBron battled through a regular season in which he couldn’t close out a game to save his life only to become the best, cold-blooded closer in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki included. And how quickly we forget that LeBron did everything he was supposed to in Game 3.
That’s right. As I sat and watched Game 3, I was genuinely surprised at what I saw: LeBron completely deferred to Wade. In Game 2, even though Wade was lights out, LeBron forced his shot as Dallas made its run. As we all know, the Mavericks eventually won.
Fast forward to Sunday night. LeBron resisted trying to take over the game. He knew it wasn’t his time. It was Wade’s. Wade was rolling. He was the player to ride. So, LeBron did everything he could to facilitate and ensure the ball went through Wade. How does that make him any less of a star? Would we chastise Kobe for getting the ball down low to Pau Gasol or accuse Paul Pierce of shrinking because he consistently found Ray Allen open in the corner? Hello!? Isn’t this what basketball is all about?
LeBron can’t win. It’s as simple as that. You want to talk about shrinking in the 4th quarter? Let’s start with NBA darlings Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. I don’t see anyone knocking down doors to antagonize them at their post game press conferences. Rose was downright awful in the Eastern Conference Finals, ESPECIALLY when it mattered most. Kevin Durant wasn’t much better. But did he get lambasted for hoisting awful threes and ignoring the offense at times? No sir. Russell Westbrook took the heat. Is anyone accusing Dirk of shrinking after he literally threw Game 3 away and then missed the game-tying shot? No. Doing so would be foolish. Why then is it acceptable to drag LeBron through the mud when he did exactly what any coach would want from his player in a similar situation?
Like I said, I don’t really like LeBron, but I refuse to wrongfully criticize his play simply because I disagree with his persona and the way he carries himself. LeBron has been amazing in the playoffs. He, Dirk, and Zach Randolph make up my top 3 (in some order) of the most dominate players of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
While Wade has clearly emerged as the Heat’s best player in the NBA Finals, LeBron has emerged as the cynical media’s whipping boy. Great game, good game, bad game, win or lose; none of it matters. LeBron James will continually be called a fraud. A loser. A shrinking superstar.
And to that undue ridicule…
…We are all witnesses.