Before I present the relevant contents of this article I want to remind and assure people (and actually myself) that this was the All Star Game, a glorified pickup game of no defense and playground like antics. It means absolutely nothing in the reality of the NBA, it has no real effect on an individual’s legacy, it is rather an excuse for the league to generate a huge amount of money and exposure by blinding us with the greatest collection of basket balling talent this universe can offer.
I may contradict that notion through the rest of this, and if so I am doing it out of a raw emotional reaction to what we witnessed in Orlando today. As sports fans, we often let emotions overshadow reality, and I try to separate the two, but in this case I may not be able to.
I have watched LeBron James his entire career. Unlike most of the people that associate themselves as qualified critics of his game, I have seen the majority of his games throughout his career. I truly believe I have a better researched mind on the tabloid that is LeBron James than the vast majority of those who weigh in on him, including most of the so called ‘experts’ as ESPN, Fox and wherever else you go to for your news. Excuse me if that sounds arrogant, I do not mean to be so, but I believe this with every ounce of my being.
Contrary to popular belief, LeBron James has only been framed as a ‘choker’ or ‘lacking the clutch gene’, or whatever other ridiculous adjectival term the media has concucted, emerged within the last 18 months or so. He was so universally loved by the league, fans and media alike, that his sometime ineptitudes in late game situations were not scrutinised to the 1/100,000,000 as they are now. That is not by any means me admitting he is ‘unclutch’, because over his career of which I have followed so closely, I have seen him hit big shots in big situations dating as far back as his rookie season. He has sustained production late, he has hit game winners, buzzer beaters, whatever you like. He has made big plays for his teammates, he has made big plays on the defensive end.
That has all been done and no one really argues that he hasn’t had instances of it before, regardless of those instances being concentrated.
But as his days in Cleveland came to an end, and people saw it coming, it all started to turn. His play against Boston in the last playoff series of his career as a Cavalier was highly criticised to the point where he was accused of quitting. The public perception of him began to swing and people started painting him with the portrayal of a weak player late in games. That was blown exponentially out of the water when he took his talents to South Beach and at times struggled with the idea of sharing these situations with another player.
Yet, regardless of what everyone will have you believe, he did make big shots, game winners when it mattered last year. He made plays to help his team to the third best record in the league. His play during the first three rounds of the playoffs was matched perhaps only by that of Michael Jordan. It was all dominating, un-defendable brilliance. He hit big shot after big shot after big shot against the two best defences in the league.
His awful Finals ensured everyone immediately forgot about the previous 15 games. Also contrary to popular belief, it was not so much that James was missing shots in the Finals, it was that he was not taking them at all. He went missing through entire games, not just the fourth quarters of those final 5 games. He was not shrinking late, he had already shrunk. I still cannot tell you what happened as to why this was so, not even he can. Calling him a choker was the easiest solution, regardless of it being inaccurate.
That brings me to Kobe Bryant. Bryant is consensually known as the greatest ‘clutch’ player of his generation and one of the greatest in this field ever. It doesn’t matter how many bad plays, how many turnovers, how many game winners he misses, he will not lose that label. When he does miss people say oh well he’s done it before. LeBron has too. Obviously to a lesser extent but he has. Then people say well Kobe’s ‘killer instinct’ isn’t just making shots, but it’s having the guts to take the shots. So basically they hedge their bets. Yet if LeBron takes and misses a game winner, like he has plenty of times, he is called unclutch, whereas Kobe is still a killer.
Obviously I will not argue Kobe’s stature in the game, but you can understand my displeasure in the double standards that have arisen.
James’ new image has arisen from people’s dislike of him surrounding his decision to leave Cleveland. He was never hated un-mercilessly like this before and did not draw any of the same late game scrutiny. None of you will admit it, but this idea of LeBron as a bad fourth quarter player has grown from the hatred of the man.
As someone who has watched him all his career and tries to stay as objective as possible, I buy none of it.
That belief system was rocked tonight.
I do not care about the turnover late in the game. That happens all the time and if people are going to start identifying that us unclutch then we need a whole new dictionary for basketball terms. You’ll have passing clutch and shooting clutch, defensive clutch, etc.
It’s ridiculous, stop it.
What really, really, really disturbed me was what happened afterwards. I have never seen LeBron like this before.
I do not know whether the team decided collectively they would get their best look with LeBron (by far the team’s best passer and holding a size advantage off the inbound pass) throwing in the ball, I do not know whether Thibodeau said LeBron I want you passing the ball in, I do not know whether James volunteered because he knew he would give the team the best look.
That would certainly make me feel better if it were the case. But we can’t know that, so I’ll move on.
As the East came out of their huddle and LeBron headed for the sideline to inbound the ball, Kobe Bryant came walking over to him. Again, contrary to what the media said, Bryant was not jarring LeBron, daring him to take the shot. He was expressing huge disappointment that it was James that would pass the ball. He walked over to LeBron almost pleading for him to take the shot, showing as much disappointment on his face as he does following a loss, if not more. He wanted LeBron to take the shot. Whether he was being a friend, whether he was being a competitor, whether he wanted overtime, whether he thought LeBron would miss, whatever he thought, again we don’t know, but I don’t think it matters. But to me, he looked like he saw the side of LeBron that the media now has him believing, that previous was not there, and he didn’t like it.
LeBron’s reaction could be ready in a few ways, but to me it further confirmed my fears.
I have had a sick feeling in my stomach ever since I saw it. I did not rewind any of the dunks or threes or any other highlights from the game, but I found myself continually watching Bryant’s reaction to James moving to the sideline for the inbound pass.
I want to make myself feel better by believing this was what the team decided, that it gave them the best chance to win, but I know if LeBron wanted the shot he would have said it to Thibodeau and he would have gotten the ball. Wade said at the end of the game he demanded it because he is a shot maker, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. Had LeBron had an off shooting night I’d have believed it, but he was phenomenal.
I don’t just believe, but I know that the image which the media and fans have created of LeBron James as the tentative, ineffective, choking late game player was wrong. It didn’t bother me much when people went on about it because I knew it wasn’t true. But whilst it had not been true and still isn’t naturally, I think even James is starting to believe it.
I shared Kobe’s disappointment, genuine or not.
I do not know whether I am making a huge deal out of nothing, I do not know whether this can be explained but is something we from the outside cannot see.
But America, you spiteful nation, have been successful in pushing LeBron James toward what you want him to be. He was not this before and I still am unsure whether he is it now, but the person that Kobe Bryant showed such disappointment in is not the LeBron James I have spent the last decade of my life watching.
There are reasons I can offer to you as to why he did not attempt the three pointer at the end, some of which may in fact be the truth. But in this instance, I will step aside from my normal guarded position of LeBron James and let whatever and whoever wishes to attack him, do so.
Tags: All-Star Boston Celtics Carmelo Anthony Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose Dwyane Wade East Eastern Conference Kobe Bryant LA Lakers Lebron James Los Angeles Lakers Miami Heat NBA New York Knicks Tom Thibodeau West Western Conference