I've been trying to stay solely focused on the Dallas Mavericks throughout these NBA Finals because of the mostly one-sided focus of the national media, but The LeBhronicles have become too damn fascinating. And who doesn't like a Top 10 list? So here goes...
(Note: Michael Jordan's name will not make one appearance in this write-up after this paragraph. The fact that any and every good player gets compared to MJ on a game-to-game basis is an incredibly lazy and elementary train of thought. To make Lebron out as a failure simply because he doesn't measure up to Jordan is absurdly ridiculous. Anybody who states "Jordan would never have done that" in reference to LeBron deserves to be mushroom stamped by a big, fat LeBroner. End rant.)
1. All of the LeBronalysis that followed the LeBreltdown is leading up to tonight's crescendo, in what could be the most intriguing game the NBA has produced since Michael J.....damnit! Since No-Tippin' Pippen and the Chicago Bulls won their last Championship in 1998 (and that's only what most people would say, I'd say ever). Not only is the power of an NBA Championship on the line, a title that would be the first for each of the team's biggest stars. But can you remember a game with so much significance placed on one man's shoulders? Whether LeBron plays good or bad, he's going to be the story. And every action of his on the court is fair game. How will he react? With what we've seen from him before, anything from another single digit no-show to a 50-point takeover is possible. Hell, I wouldn't rule out him giving birth to a baby hippo at midcourt, AND THEN hitting the game winning shot. One thing is for sure, for better or worse, and whether he likes it or not, LeBron has all of our eyes directly on him.
2. Lebron has played mostly bad in the NBA Finals and was truly awful in Game 4. However, the most interesting part of his Game 4 meltdown wasn't that he played a bad game (because everybody has bad games), it was how eager he was to disappear. Have you ever seen a 6'9, 270 pound man try to hide in an arena filled with 19,600 people that happens to be on television with over 16 million people watching from home? Well, if you watched Tuesday night's game then you did. While much of the Game 3 criticism was unfair, it was foreshadowingly clear that he wanted no part in being a deciding factor of the game, or the series. He seemed so afraid of failing that he didn't even try, which is cowardly - and I don't like saying that - I'd much rather hurl that insult Jay Cutler's way, who actually went through a very similar situation in the NFC Championship Game this year - but it is very cowardly.
3. I wouldn't label LeBron as a choker, but when he does start to feel the pressure, he feels it immensely. And he shuts down in an unbelievable fashion. Like "Are you sure LeBron is still playing?" fashion. Like "Oh my god, is one of his teammates sleeping with his Mom?" fashion. The first big case of it was seen in last year's Game 5 loss to the Boston Celtics. But, Game 4 of these Finals may have been a bigger, better, and brighter example.
4. The most surprising part of the Game 4 LeBreltdown might have been what happened before it. Jason Terry, who likes to talk, and who had been shut down by LeBron in the previous 3 games, called him out, saying that he wants to see if LeBron continue to shut him down throughout the entirety of the series. Everybody thought he was crazy. You're gonna call out LeBron after he already had enough motivation coming off a game where he received a tremendous amount of criticism despite winning? However, it's impossible to say it didn't work. I wouldn't pinpoint it as the main reason for LeBron's poor performance, but it very well could've been a factor. And yes, it was Terry shaking free from LeBron and hitting the two most important shots of Game 4. Did the words play a part in his intimidated demeanor, or was it simply the moment?
5. The other theory about the causation of the LeBreltdown is that he is somewhat sensitive. Was he sensitive from the tongue lashing he got via Dwyane Wade down the stretch of Game 3? Or was he sensitive from the infamous Gregg Doyel question, when he asked him about shrinkage ('it shrinks? Yes, like a frightened turtle')? Was all of that in his head? Did it lead to him questioning himself and his game? Was the talk of Wade winning the Finals MVP over him a factor? Was he affected by the talk of The Rapture? Will we ever find out the answers to any of these questions? How many questions can I write in a row? Answer - 8.
6. The biggest LeSponse being tossed around is that 'Bron is simply fatigued - physically, mentally, and emotionally. He played every single game this season with an eff-U attitude aimed at the rest of the league, because of how everybody responded to The Decision. He's played atleast 39 minutes (usually in the 45-46 minute range) in every playoff game. The solution to this seems simple enough (rest him more during games), while the blame has to fall squarely on Erik Spoelstra (for not resting him more during the inconsequential regular season). I expect to see him take a few breathers in tonight's Game 5, while I expect the Mavs to run Jason Terry in circles if they stick LeBron on him again.
7. Even at his very worst, LeBron is still comparable to, say, Rajon Rondo. He still dished out 7 assists, including a length of the court outlet pass that hit D-Wade in stride, giving him a chance to tie the game at the free throw line with 30 ticks left. He still came down with 9 rebounds. He still came to the postgame presser in an olive green blazer. He still....well, that's all I got, but I fulfilled my obligation to include one optimistic thought!
8. LeBron has never had to work hard for what he's wanted. Everything has always been handed to him. He was born with the athleticism that makes him the most talented basketball player in the world. He became a household name in high school before he'd ever really accomplished anything. He didn't stay in Cleveland trying to make it work. He came to Miami expecting Championships to be handed to him. He might just not know how to work hard for what he wants, but this could be developed over his career.
9. The polarization of LeBron is fantastic for sports and NBA fans. While his fans remain insecure without a go-to argument like Kobe's 5 rings, the haters remain terrified of what will happen if he gets his head on straight. However, the point that most of his fans are missing when they complain about the amount of hate he endures, is that it's a tremendous sign of respect. It's his greatness that leads to polarization like that. Remember that if you're a LeBron fan and you've taken on the attitude of the Heat, whining every chance you get about how everybody is rooting against you. A non-response might be more telling than an articulate response. People would stop hating pretty fast.
10. I wonder if LeBron would change his Decision knowing everything that he knows now. All the hate, all the criticism. Is it worth it? Would one Championship as the top dog outweigh multiple as something of a sidekick (might be able to ask Dirk after this series)? Would he prefer to go back to being beloved by a city (and a country) at the risk of never winning a ring? Has this been experience been anything like he imagined (there's no way right?)? This is a question that will never get answered because LeBron has to live with the results and would never admit that he made the wrong choice. It was the choice he made. It was - The Decision.