There may not be an athlete in the history of sports who takes more criticism on a daily basis than LeBron James. Turn on any sports network, radio station, or sports blog and there is a solid chance they will be or have been talking about LeBron.
He is the best basketball player on the planet, and there is no denying that. There is also no denying that some of criticism he takes he has brought upon on himself from his antics in high school to his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But perhaps the biggest knock on LeBron has always been one thing: Why can’t he finish strong in close games?
While there are plenty of times he has hit big shots and carried his team late in the fourth quarter, there are just as many, if not more, where he has seemingly disappeared. It is one of the strangest things anyone has ever seen, but LeBron will often appear afraid of the big moment.
With all the comparisons he receives daily to Michael Jordan, critics are quick to point out all of the game winning shots Jordan made and how the bigger the moment, the more intense he played.
LeBron silenced many of those concerns amongst NBA fans by dominating the 2012 playoffs and winning an NBA championship, after losing and having one of the worst series of his life in the 2011 Finals.
This year in the Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, the questions started surfacing again. LeBron wasn’t scoring, and people couldn’t understand why.
First things first, it’s important to point out LeBron’s demeanor as a player. He is a natural facilitator, not a natural scorer with a killer instinct. People see the size and athleticism and wonder why LeBron won’t just overpower everyone and get to the hoop.
You can’t change a player’s mental identity, not easily anyway. LeBron wants to create opportunities for everyone on his team to score and be effective while he contributes in all facets of the game. That’s who he is, and that’s who he will always be.
Game 6 of the Finals had LeBron and the Heat facing elimination. The Miami Heat entered the third quarter down 75-65 and LeBron only had 14 points. In an effort we have rarely seen from LeBron, he would go on a fourth quarter tear for the ages.
LeBron took over and willed the Heat back to a tie. In the fourth quarter he shot 7-for-11 with 16 points, two assists and two rebounds. Every possession, LeBron looked to attack with reckless abandon. He had that killer look in his eyes, and you knew he wasn’t letting his team lose.
People will point out that he had some crucial turnovers. Even LeBron was quick to point them out after the game, but the way he played was exactly what fans in the NBA have been asking for since he entered the league. We want to see him attack, dominate, and finish. That’s exactly what he did.
Ultimately the Heat would go on to win in overtime, 103-100. The Spurs may have helped out by choking greatly and other players like Chris Bosh and Ray Allen made huge plays to help the team get the victory, but there is no denying LeBron’s attack helped get them back in the game.
Unfortunately for LeBron, if they don’t win in Game 7, this performance will end up being forgotten. That’s just the way sports work, and fans have a short memory. The one thing we learned is that LeBron is capable of taking over; it’s just a matter of if he wants too or not.