Jun 14, 2013, 12:35 AM EDT
LeBron James is the most questioned NBA champion ever.
The snickers and jeering reached critical mass after he struggled through the Heat’s loss to the Spurs in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Can he elevate his game on the biggest stage? Is he afraid of the moment? Why does he crumble under pressure?
It was almost as if nobody remembers he won a championship last year, taking Finals MVP in the process.
The title was supposed bring basketball immortality. That’s how the game works. Win a Finals series, and you’re forever a champion. Nobody questions Paul Pierce’s, Kevin Garnett’s, Ray Allen’s, Ben Wallace’s or Chauncey Billups’ legacies as winners. All five won only a single championship, and all five actually returned to the Finals afterward and lost.
Yet, LeBron faces a different standard.
He brought some of it on himself by how he left Cleveland for Miami and began talking dynasty immediately. His physical dominance and advanced skillset also lend themselves to greater expectations.
But at a certain point, we cross a line and demand too much of LeBron.
And then he reminds you why he might retire as the greatest player of all time, how he’s capable of meeting the most absurdly high standards
In Miami’s 109-93 Game 4 win over San Antonio, LeBron had 33 points, 11 rebound, four assists, two steals, two blocks and only one turnover. Nobody has hit those numbers in a game, regular season or postseason, in two years. Nobody has done it in the playoffs since at least 1986, as far back as Basketball-Reference.com’s relevant records go.
LeBron knows how he’s judged, and at this stage of the season, not only must he play well individually, he must win a championship. And he knew it was time address that head on.
This wasn’t like after losing Game 1, when LeBron reinstated his belief in his teammates and then proved it in Game 2. After Game 3, LeBron focused on himself.
“I’ll be better,” he said. “I’ll be much better tomorrow night.”
“I can’t afford to perform like I did last night and expect us to win on the road. It’s that simple,” LeBron continued. “So, I’m putting all the pressure on my chest, on my shoulders to come through for our team. That’s the way it is.”
Then he dug in deeper.
“I have to do whatever it takes,” he said.
”I will be better tomorrow,” he vowed.
And then he angled his self-demanding talk toward his teammates.
“I am the star, I am the leader,” LeBron said. “And they look at me to do things on the court, to make plays, and if I’m not doing it, I’m not doing my job.
Until LeBron attempted his first shot with 6:31 left in the first quarter of Game 4, the Heat had shot 2-for-6 (33 percent) and trailed by eight points. From then on, LeBron’s teammates shot 52 percent and outscored the Spurs by 24 points.
The Heat have gone 69 straight games without suffering back-to-back losses not because LeBron always plays better after losses – he often doesn’t – but because the Heat play better after losses. His greatness fits within their team concept, and generally, when he excels, they excel.
He’ll face even more pressure in Game 5, as his own great performance in Game 4 will raise the bar even higher.
There’s no guarantee he’ll meet the challenge, but there is absolute certainty he’s capable.
After Game 3, LeBron said he’d play better. In Game 4, he played better. It’s really that simple.
This series rests in his hands. It’s up to him whether continues bringing the focus necessary to play at his highest levels. If he does, LeBron will get his second championship and likely his second Finals MVP.
And then we can raise the bar even higher.
Aug 31, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
The Clippers add more depth. It’s been a good offseason for Doc Rivers.
Aug 31, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT
He is a very good pick-and-roll guard with great court vision.
Aug 31, 2015, 5:02 PM EDT
The Suns have no leverage now even if they wanted to move him, and apparently they don’t.
Aug 31, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
You don’t even need to pump up his sneakers
Aug 31, 2015, 3:27 PM EDT
Cleveland can watch Pointer develop without having to pay him
Aug 31, 2015, 2:26 PM EDT
Mike Clarkson says son committed to Lakers
Aug 31, 2015, 1:33 PM EDT
Don’t expect him to make the regular-season roster this season
Aug 31, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT
Could Lakers wing play in the 2016 Olympics?
Report: Tristan Thompson won’t accept less than max from Cavaliers, his agent thinks Raptors will offer it next summer
Aug 31, 2015, 11:43 AM EDT
Thompson might leverage the max from Cleveland, but it probably shouldn’t be because of this Toronto threat
Aug 31, 2015, 10:26 AM EDT
By dropping an NBA draft pick, Canadians show how far they’ve come
Aug 31, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Utah now has 20 players
Aug 31, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
This would have been fun to attend.
Aug 31, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
He’s a long shot to make a roster.
Aug 30, 2015, 10:16 PM EDT
Al-Farouq Aminu is headed back to the Olympics.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:39 PM EDT
There is no signed deal yet.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Shaq said Phil Jackson was fair with them.
Aug 30, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
We’ll all look back at the McCallum trade and say “it’s the Spurs doing Spurs things again.”
Aug 30, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
He will be missed.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Can Johnson take on the backup point guard role if Chalmers was moved?
Aug 30, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
“You’re talking about being a fiscally responsible person, I am. That’s precisely why I did this.” —Scott Walker
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