Did Lebron James choke?
I am not a fan of Lebron James at all. I have always found myself a little put off by his antics. But in these NBA Finals, I found myself feeling let down by his lack of energy on the court. I don’t get any joy rooting against someone who looks like they would rather not even be in the game. I pulled against Jordan for years, but enjoyed it because I could always count on him bringing that same competitive fire to the court. I knew the game meant something to him; I knew he would feel the pain of losing after the game, and that was what made it so sweet when he rarely lost. But Lebron saw the bright lights of the Finals and quietly ducked into an alley to escape the pressure.
So, did he choke? Did he quit? Was the stage too big? Yes, yes, and yes. I think he felt the pressure of the media after their Game 2 collapse and internalized every horrible ‘what if’ in their long break before the start of Game 3. He knew he came up small that game and actively sought out to change that. But, as we have seen before with Lebron, trying to make something happen doesn’t work so well for him. He plays best when he is front-running and has no pressure. Throw in even a minute amount of pressure and you can just see the thoughts brewing in his head. He starts biting his nails. He gets really quiet. He starts passing the basketball as soon as it gets to him. He looks distraught. He looks like he quits and just wants out of the whole situation.
And I honestly think he starts to panic when these games get on the line. He lacks the focus and intensity Jordan and Kobe have when pressure starts cooking and the game gets on the line. For Kobe, the game slows down. For Jordan, every shot is in slow motion. For Bird, every final stretch was an eternity. For Lebron, the game ends in a frantic, jerky mess that leaves us wondering “What in the hell just happened?!” It makes fans wonder if he really did just quit out there. And it isn’t just a matter of the media being tough on him, because the questions about Lebron are 100% legitimate. Even in Kobe’s tough Game 7 of the Finals last year, did we ever question how bad he wanted it? Did he ever quit taking the ball to the rim every time he touched it? Did he ever play hot potato with the ball down the stretch? But Lebron James looked confused out there. He looked like he did not want the ball. He really looked like he quit.
I wonder if he is not having some sort of panic attack on the court. We have never really had a superstar that looked like Lebron does in these big moments. Peyton Manning in his early years would be my closest comparison, but he made those claims look pretty stupid in the end. It just doesn’t make much sense without wondering about his psychological and emotional capability down the stretch of big games. I would like to think he will get over these issues and be back next year, with me rooting more vehemently against him than ever, but I wonder if I will get joy rooting against someone who lacks any killer instinct whatsoever. I ended up rooting against Wade, Bosh, and even Mario Chalmers, simply because they looked like they still had a pulse at the end of Game 6.
I hope you come back next with more passion and less anxiety, Lebron. I want to enjoy your losses and not end up feeling sorry for you. I want to love to hate you, not hate to hate you because I feel like you couldn’t give your best effort. No one wants a Superman who cannot fly. Deep down, I have to believe you panicked and did not quit. The moment just got too big for you. The emotions started running high and you just couldn’t handle it. I hope you figure out what is going on in your head. I want to hate you this time next year. For now, sleep easy Kobe Bryant. You are still the one to beat.
by Rance Young