After game three, a Miami victory, a reporter impertinently asked LeBron James why he seemed to be shrinking at the games most critical moments.  The question then seemed out of bounds and nearly irresponsible.  But now it seems like it may be the only question that should be asked – particularly after LeBron’s worst ever playoff game Tuesday night.

LeBron James

No athlete has been more examined, reviewed and critiqued than LeBron James has this season.   But now that the Miami Heat have reached the NBA Finals as many predicted, the spotlight is shining even more intensely on him.  And what it seems to be illuminating are some very serious flaws.  LeBron, the NBA’s highest profile player, who is often compared to Michael Jordan in terms of all-around ability, has not been Jordanesque at all against the Dallas Mavericks.

He has seemed curiously passive in his play in the closing minutes.  In fact in the fourth quarters of the four games played so far, LeBron has scored a grand total of only nine points.

Perhaps this is the negative by-product of having two supremely talented players whose games are more similar than complementary.    Dwyane Wade, the Heat’s other superstar, has dominated play.   On Tuesday, Wade finished with 32 points, while LeBron managed only eight.   Wade has been the team’s leader by far throughout this series, which has been a surprise to a lot of onlookers.

But often overlooked is the fact that Wade led the Heat to an NBA championship five years ago over these same Dallas Mavericks, with one of the best  performances ever witnessed outside of Michael Jordan.  But LeBron, who also has a previous NBA Finals appearance in 2007 with Cleveland, did little to help the Cavaliers, who were swept in four games by the San Antonio Spurs.

LeBron who famously took his talents to South Beach last year and created one of the biggest public and media firestorms of all time, will now have even more eyes on him during game five on Thursday.  But it will be scrutiny of his own making.  How he responds will be telling and perhaps even career defining.

The thing about LeBron James is that he will continue to be measured by the lofty expectations that have followed him since he entered the NBA straight out of high school eight years ago.  Even though he has won the MVP award twice he has still not won an NBA title or even looked like an all-star when it counted.  This will go a long way toward determining what his legacy will be years after he retires.

Is it fair to put this kind of pressure on LeBron and pick his game and psyche apart?  When you are the highest paid, most celebrated and perhaps the most talented – yes it is.


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  1. Marvin Wamble says:

    We all keep waiting for Lebron to step up, but when he gets the ball in key situations in the fourth quarter he quickly passes it. I know that he is a team player. I know that he relishes finding the open man, but Lebron needs to figure out who he is. If he wants to be Wade’s Scotty Pippen, that’s fine. The problem is we all expected so much more. And maybe the problem is us. Possibly we want more out of Lebron than he wants out of himself. Possibly our lofty expetations of the next Jordan are greater than Lebron’s desires for a ring. All he has said is that he wants a ring; it appears he does not want to be a ring leader. Should we dog the brother because he just wants to be Tonto? Shall we crucify him for desiring to be Robin and not Batman? If we all lower our expectations, he will go down as one with a few rings and great potential.

  2. DavidBurnett says:

    @Marvin – if LeBron gets his ring as Robin, Tonto or Pippen, we’ll be even more critical with justification. Yes, expectations are often ours as fans and not the prodigies we celebrate – but LeBron has aided in our perceptions and expectations. Which to me means he needs to live up to them or give up some of his salary and cred. If all you are is second banana you then need to act like it and be paid accordingly. But this won’t happen. Time for LeBron to “man-up” and try to be the man or at least be Wade’s peer. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Kathy says:

    At 25, LeBron is young by many standards, but has had time to acquire a history within the sport that does give clues as to his over-all psychological composition. It seems to me that he is not the consummate professional, in the sense that he is not managing the pressures that go along with his abilities in the best possible manner to achieve wins. Ordinarily that involves keeping a very thick skin and avoiding controversy. He comes across to me as a person that is overly-sentimental, and may be distracted by the demands of the public perception balancing act required at his level. The rest of the Heat are veterans of the championship series, he is not. He has a lot of internal pressure that he created for himself with his spotlight move, but I personally don’t think he did anything wrong or even unlikable. I do feel his behavior was perhaps not in his own best interests as far as managing his performance and staying focused. He comes across to me as having been conflicted about his perceived lack of loyalty, and excited at the possibility of achieving something important to him. The amplification of the issue suggests that he was genuinely conflicted about making a franchise move that potentially came across as “selfish”, and he amplified his response to that internal guilt. The public, nearly to the man, exploited those sentimental underpinnings, and predictably, his decision came across as a weakness. He would have fared far better had he been quiet about his own personal misgivings and just stealthily made the move, but he genuinely felt like he owed “the people” an explanation. I am on his side, and as a former Miami native, my opinion is that their ball-team has a legacy of respect and ethics and excellence that he does indeed have to work into, regardless of his stature and talent within the sport. I suspect it is struggle as the new guy for him to work into that dynamic, but am confident that he has a few more years to find the right balance if he can stop responding to the media and doubting himself and whether he deserves a ring. I hope they win it this year, but don’t feel like it defines him over the long term as much as the potential pressure of any ensuing scrutiny. Win or lose, he is probably going to be scrutinized, just because, hey – it’s a topic. How he is able to internally respond will probably help to define his legacy in the sport… Win or lose, I feel like his biggest potential for growth is to become assured enough to disregard the pressures of the media, because if he keeps looking outwardly for approval, he is not going to reach his highest performance levels in the long-run.

  4. Reggie Sanders says:

    While I admire any professional who manages his own career as he sees fit, Chicago would have been the best choice for his talents and ability. (He) would have been the perfect balance of scoring, defensive pressure and getting out on the break. Imagine a front line of Boozer, Noah and Deng with a back court of Rose and LeBron.

    Let’s face it, Mike Miller cannot shoot when it counts; Bibby is ineffective unless you leave him open for an entire day before; Mario is solid but is not used well. LeBron’s lapses are of concern because they come in the 4th quarter. The Heat always struggle down the stretch. I don’t think it’s an issue between him and Wade, I just think he is not the closer everyone thinks he is and he is with the wrong collection of players. Wade, yes, is (the) closer.

  5. ruthy pagan says:

    lebron james will never be a michael jordan there is only one michael jordan

  6. Kathy says:

    Wade *is* a closer. But although temperaments and innate ability vary, “closing” is also a “skill” of responding to pressure, and as such can be developed. I hope LeBron can learn it – in this series would be nice – he seems like a talented and earnest young athlete.