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.
Jul 29, 2015, 12:05 AM EDT
Cuban said presidential candidate is ‘probably the best thing to happen to politics in a long, long time’
Jul 28, 2015, 11:09 PM EDT
Could former summer-league standout fill Golden State’s need for an off-the-bench shooter?
Jul 28, 2015, 10:11 PM EDT
Hint, hint, hint
Jul 28, 2015, 9:16 PM EDT
Dallas also reportedly talking to Salah Mejri
Jul 28, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT
Thunder power forward was scheduled to play in African exhibition game
Jul 28, 2015, 7:24 PM EDT
Miami cleared roster room for second-round pick
Jul 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
I can tell you where Batum will land next summer — whichever team offers him the most money.
Jul 28, 2015, 5:46 PM EDT
He’ll be back this fall.
Jul 28, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT
The Lakers and Knicks don’t make a ton of sense for him.
Jul 28, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
He’s been sober four years, which is most important.
Jul 28, 2015, 3:29 PM EDT
With more number retirements in Boston on the way in a few years.
Jul 28, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
Did Michael Jordan hijack the draft process in Charlotte again?
Jul 28, 2015, 1:54 PM EDT
Walker is expected to sign the bill to allocate funds for a new arena.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:43 PM EDT
Batum will be a free agent next summer.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT
The Nets added solid role players in addition to re-signing Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
Udoh played five seasons with the Warriors, Bucks and Clippers.
Jul 28, 2015, 12:59 PM EDT
Barnes hasn’t forgotten Ibaka’s altercations with Blake Griffin.
Jul 28, 2015, 12:54 PM EDT
Garnett came out to Summer League practices to work with Towns.
Jul 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
The man made some plays.
Jul 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Mason Plumlee with a money gun shooting $100s.
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