LeBron James has plenty of time left in his career to win an NBA title. He is only 27 years old. He is just entering his prime. He might very well one day fulfill all of his potential and win multiple NBA championships. And if that happens, then every media member out there that’s taking shots at him (and you can include me in that group) will have to eat crow. But until then James deserves every single bit of the criticism he has been taking.
James is one of the best players in the NBA. Whether he is one of the best players in NBA history remains up for debate. In order for him to be included in that group, James has to reach the top of the mountain. He doesn’t have to do it multiple times. But he has to get there, even if it’s just once.
The best players in history have taken their teams on their backs and led them to championships. Michael Jordan did that. Magic Johnson did that. Larry Bird did that. Kobe Bryant did that. Bill Russell did that. James, up until this point, has not done that.
This has nothing to do with James leaving the Cavaliers and taking his talents to South Beach. This has nothing to do with ‘The Decision.’ This has everything to do with LeBron coming up small in big moments. He came up small in last year’s NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
It’s not that he didn’t come up big on Tuesday night against the Pacers. It’s that he didn’t show the intense need to win that the crème de la crème in league history displayed time and time again.
I have a big problem with how he failed to demand the ball in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Indiana. The best of the best would not have allowed Mario Chalmers to take the shot that would have tied the game at 78 and sent it into overtime. The best of the best would have taken his team’s fate out of Chalmers’ hands and at least tried to get the job done on his own.
Even players that were not of Jordan’s ilk have taken offense to not taking the big shot when it counted most. Let’s go back to the 1994 playoff series between the Knicks and Chicago Bulls. Scottie Pippen was so upset that Phil Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc that he took himself out of the game. Pippen was roundly taken to task for his actions. He was called selfish. Maybe the critics were right. But maybe Pippen was right, too.
Maybe Pippen knew that the best chance the Bulls had at winning was with him taking the game’s final shot. Maybe he wasn’t looking for the glory, as many had accused him of doing. Maybe he was actually thinking of his team. Granted, his reaction was dead wrong. But maybe his heart was in the right place.
Ultimately, that’s the problem I have with James. For all of his talents, he doesn’t step up when it counts most. On Tuesday night, when Erik Spolestra drew up the play for Chalmers, James should have stepped up and demanded the ball. Sure he could have missed. And if he did, he would have been taken to task. But the bottom line is one of the best players in the game allowed a lesser player to decide his team’s fate.
It seems to me at times that James is unwilling to take chances. This is not the first time he didn’t take the final shot of the game. Sure, his failure to do so at the All-Star game was overblown, but it still showed his unwillingness to step up and control his team’s destiny with the game on the line.
You can tell me all you want about how he carried the Cavaliers past Detroit and into the NBA Finals a few years ago, but how many times has he done it since then? How many times has he looked at his teammates, told them to let him take them where they want to go, and then actually go out and do it?
I don’t care about a meaningless regular season game. I don’t care about games early in the playoffs. I care about when it matters most; with championships on the line. James simply hasn’t taken the ball and run with it.
You either have the killer instinct as an athlete or you don’t. I know Jordan did. I know Bird did. I know Magic did. I don’t know if James has that killer instinct. I don’t know if he has that intense desire to win that drove Bird, Jordan and Johnson. He talks a good game, but until he wins it all, it’s just talk. He has to get it done.
Maybe he will. Maybe the Heat with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will win it all multiple times. If they do I will tip my cap to James. I promise. I will eat crow if that happens.
But until it does, James deserves every bit of heat (pun intended) that he is taking right now.