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LeBron Talk

Maybe LeBron James doesn’t like being Jordan-esque, a killer on the court. (US Presswire)

LeBron talk begins, of course, with “Aladdin.” The Disney movie. Well, where else would we begin? You might remember — especially if you have children and have been pressed to watch Aladdin 284 times — that there’s a scene where Genie explains a few things he cannot do. These were the provisos and quid pro quos. Rule No. 1: Genie can’t kill anyone. Rule No. 2: Genie can’t make anyone fall in love. And …

“Rule No. 3: I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture. I don’t like doing it!”

OK, so when you’ve seen this movie 284 times something about this scene is troubling. Genie says at first that he can’t bring people back from the dead. That seems clear enough. But then he explains that it’s not a pretty picture, suggesting he actually has brought people from the dead, or at least tried to do it. He then says that he doesn’t like doing it, which suggests he absolutely can do it, but it’s a dark place and he doesn’t like to go there.

So this connects with LeBron … how, exactly? Let’s go back a few days. In the Sunday game of the Miami-Indiana series, LeBron played one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen anyone play. The Pacers unexpectedly led the series 2-1, we who stand United Against LeBron (UAL)* were huddled close to the television rooting for a Pacers team few of us had even thought about since Reggie Miller fought with Spike Lee. And LeBron was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. He scored 40 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out nine assists. Do you know how many other people in the last 25 years have pulled off that combination in a playoff game? Nobody. Not Bird, not Magic, not Barkley, not Karl Malone, not Shaq, not Duncan, not Jordan. Nobody. He also had two steals and two blocks … but it wasn’t just the numbers because, let’s face it, LeBron’s remarkable talents often lead to remarkable numbers. It also wasn’t a single-handed effort — Dwyane Wade made like 48 shots in a row. Still, it was the possession-by-possession will LeBron showed that game that stuck with me most of all, the way he backed down anyone guarding him, the way he dominated the glass, the way he found open teammates all over the floor, the way he — in announcer speak — refused to let the Heat lose. It was breathtaking stuff.

*I readily admit that my continuous hope for LeBron to fail says some bad things about me. LeBron was an amazing basketball player for the Cavaliers. He brought me years of joy as a Cleveland basketball fan. He had every right to leave and try something new. Yes, he left in a low-rent way, but at some point you have to get over such things. He was young. He was full of himself. He didn’t commit any crimes against humanity. He’s an extraordinary player who does extraordinary things. I consider myself a fan of the game, I should be willing to just enjoy the wonder of it all. But, you know what? I like rooting against LeBron. It’s not a noble endeavor, I realize, but we all need our hobbies.

When that Indiana game ended, I wondered: Why don’t we see that LeBron more often? Isn’t that the question everyone asks? Yes, LeBron is a great basketball player almost every night he plays. It’s too easy for people like me to forget just how amazing LeBron was when he lugged a bagful of Larry Hughes, Eric Snow and Donyell Marshall to the NBA Finals by averaging 25 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and nearly two steals along the way. It’s too easy for people like me to forget that in the Cavaliers’ heart-wrenching seven-game loss to Orlando in the 2009 conference finals, LeBron scored 49, then 35, then 41, then 44, then 37 (that was his crazy 37-point, 14-rebound, 12-assist game) before struggling for a mere 25 in the final loss. The guy does extraordinary things, and he does them with regularity.

But, as a longtime LeBron observer I can say that Game 4 against Indiana looked fundamentally different. He was so charged on every possession, so locked in, so relentless, so Jordan-like. Why can’t he do that all the time?

And then this idea struck me. Maybe he can go there. But it’s not a pretty picture. He doesn’t like doing it.

I think to play at that level, to be at that level, an athlete has to go to a pretty dark place. It isn’t just athletes. I think it’s a place great writers go, great performers, great composers, great scientists, great doctors, great lawyers and so on. I’ve never been there myself, but I imagine it to be a place where nothing else matters, where no one else matters, where there is one overpowering goal and that goal drives every action, ever move, every inspiration. I think it’s a place Michael Jordan loved going — a place he desperately misses going now that he spends his days tearing tags off the back of underwear and building the worst team in NBA history. I think Tiger Woods loves going to that place. Kobe Bryant. Joe Montana. Tom Brady. Mark Messier. I know Roger Clemens loved going there.

LeBron? Obviously, I’m making this all up as I go along but … no, I don’t think so. I think LeBron loves playing basketball for the fun of it. You know when LeBron looks happiest? When his team is up by 20 and he can pass the ball behind his back. I don’t mean that as a knock — well, OK, maybe I do — but did you see the joy he felt at the end of Game 1 of this series when the Heat were destroying the Celtics? This, I believe, was why he came to Miami to play with D-Wade and Chris Bosh in the sun — to destroy teams and have some fun doing it.

“Not 1 [championship],” he famously told that Miami crowd in the afterglow of “The Decision.” “Not 2. Not 3. Not 4. Not 5. Not 6. Not 7. And when I say that I really believe it. … The way we’re going to challenge each other in practice, once the game starts it’s going to be easy. I mean with me and D-Wade running the wing, I mean Pat [Riley] could come back and play like he was in his Kentucky days. Just throw it up there and we’re gonna get it.”

Obviously that moment has been relived again and again as LeBron has found the waters choppier than he expected — and it’s probably a moment LeBron regrets. But it might get us as close to LeBron’s mindset as anything else. He likes when it’s easy. I don’t think this makes him a bad guy or takes away from his remarkable skills as a basketball player. I don’t deny having some of these tendencies. I used to play this computer game “Civilization” — which I’m sure is still around and much more complicated — and after a while I decided I liked it better in cheat mode, when I could become an advanced Civilization and have helicopters and guided missiles and the most advanced weaponry while other tribes were still fighting with sticks. I’m not proud of what that says about me, but hey, it was just a game.

LeBron was more than just good in Game 5,
scoring 30 points and grabbing 13 rebounds
in 45 minutes. (US Presswire)

And I think LeBron has that in him. I just think he likes playing basketball. He likes dunking, likes running a player down and blocking shots from behind, likes throwing beautiful passes through tiny cracks of air that only he and maybe Rajon Rondo can see. I think it means LeBron sees basketball as a chance to display his wonderful talents. It’s a game to him in a way that it probably wasn’t to Jordan or Magic or Bird. They obviously liked it when the game got hard. LeBron might like it but it sure doesn’t look that way. Dragging that sorry team around in Cleveland for so long while trying to win a championship for a hometown that hasn’t won anything since ’64; LeBron was eager to head down to South Beach, join other great players who might make some game-winning shots, and just play ball again.

Tuesday was a banner day for those of us in the UAL. More or less everybody expected the Heat to win — most figured they would win convincingly. The game was in Miami. The Heat were getting Bosh back. The Celtics are ancient. I ended up watching a few minutes of ESPN’s pre-game show and watched with awe as they went around the table and all four panelists picked the Heat. I’m not saying any of them should have picked the Celtics to change things up — though that might have made for, you know, actually interesting television — but I am wondering why they would go to each person individually to have them say exactly the same thing. They couldn’t just say something like, “OK, is anyone here brave or crazy enough to pick the Celtics?” and then condensed their identical picks into one cohesive segment. Instead they went around the table like there was drama involved:

“I think Miami is awesome. They will win. What do you think?”

“Well, I hate to disagree with you, but I think Miami is formidable and fearsome. They will win.”

“Look, both of y’all are wrong. Miami is stunning and magnificent. They will win big.”

“OK, well, I guess I have to be the one then. I say the Heat are awe-inspiring, dazzling, glorious, impressive, majestic, monumental, striking and superb. The Celtics might as well not even show up.”*

*This little production led to one of my favorite moments of the year so far, when the game ended and the ESPN crew savaged the Heat for being a bunch of poorly coached losers who have no team chemistry and have no idea how to win big games. At least Magic apologized for his pick first.

Then the game began, and the Heat played pretty well for a while — LeBron dominated for a while. The Celtics kept finding ways to come back. This did not seem to fit the Heat’s plan. LeBron was more than just good this game. He scored 30 points, grabbed 13 boards, played 45 minutes. To say he choked or did not play championship basketball is to take for granted his remarkable ability to play this game. But it is true that after his three-pointer early in the fourth quarter to give the Heat a two-point lead, he kind of disappeared. He missed a three-pointer. He drove to the basket and got his shot rejected by Kevin Garnett. He was the defender when Paul Pierce stuck the dagger three-pointer that gave the Celtics control.

Blame LeBron for the loss? No. Celebrate him for a “good job, good effort,” the way that enthusiastic kid did after the game?* Well, also: No.

*I love that kid — he was yelling “Good job, good effort” the Heat as they walked off the floor in dismal defeat. The kid was a Twitter sensation immediately, and I imagine he will be discussed often if the Heat get knocked out of this series — kind of like that famous USC Song Girl who was signaling a touchdown when Vince Young scored the game-winner against USC in the Rose Bowl. But, hey, I love kids who love their teams, and let’s face it — it isn’t like Erik Spoelstra said anything different in his press conference afterward.**

After the loss, according to the incomparable Adrian Wojnarowski, LeBron said: “We played good enough to give ourselves a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for.” This, I have to tell you, is much more gripping than the “Good job, good effort” kid. All you can ask for? A chance to win? LeBron went to South Beach to get himself eight championships, and it led to him being thrilled about a chance to win at home against a prehistoric Celtics team. By the way, what chance was that? What chance did the Heat have to win? They would have won had Pierce missed that three-pointer? Is that what LeBron meant? They would have won had the Celtics missed free throws down the stretch? What chance? They lost by four. They spent the last minute fouling and hoping for a miracle. What chance?

**Spoelstra deserves special recognition for his charge to the team to think of this as only a loss — no more and no less — and “to fight any kind of noise from the outside or any human condition.” Human condition? Really? I actually like Spoelstra, and I recognize that he’s been given a ridiculous job where he can’t really succeed but he absolutely can fail. Still, let’s face it, this whole speech felt like a concession. Human condition? “Hey, fellas, we just need to remember that this series isn’t over yet! Don’t listen to the mean old cynics out there. Fellas! Guys! Hey, Udonis, put Mario on your shoulders. Their basket is 10 feet high! I think you’ll find its exact same measurements as our gym back in Miami!”

There’s no telling what we will see in Game 6 from LeBron. Oh, he will play well — that’s almost a certainty. He will score 25 or 30, almost guaranteed, and he will grab some rebounds and make some nice passes. He will block a shot or two. He’s simply too good not to do those things. But will he go deeper, will he go beyond, will he take on the rugged Celtics, the fans and his own doubts? Will he play the sort of basketball that he played that day in Indiana, when he went to that place where nothing, absolutely nothing, could discourage or detour him?

He can go to that place, I think.

But, like Genie from “Aladdin,” I just don’t think he likes to do it.

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91 Responses to LeBron Talk

  1. Finnhere says:

    Lebron lacks the desire to win an NBA Championship. Possibly because he lacks a brain.

  2. Mark Daniel says:

    Joe, do you sometimes talk to your wife about such things, i.e. the connection between LeBron and Aladdin, and your wife ends up getting impatient within 5 seconds and says, “Will you GET TO THE POINT!?!”

    My wife does that to me all the time when I try to link, say, Seinfeld and the Detroit Lions. She doesn’t appreciate brilliant analysis like that. But I do. This was a really enjoyable post.

  3. Joe, love your blog. This post is the prime example, using non-sports life to explain sports in your own, unique way. Thanks, dan

  4. Mikey says:

    Even having read your explanation I still don’t really understand the jihad against LeBron. He took more money to move to a better city where he thought he had a greater chance at success…that’s what we’re supposed to hate him for? The Decision was a complete gaffe but good grief, it was a botched press conference two years ago. Who cares? I don’t get the vitriol, particularly when it comes from Scott Raab who also left Cleveland as a young man so he could further his career in a bigger city.

    • Phil says:

      I don’t think it’s LeBron so much as Cleveland. Cleveland feels like a city beaten down, both in sports and in real life. To take the easy route to sunny Miami just didn’t feel right to most casual basketball fans.

    • Raab says:

      I left Cleveland to go to grad school when I was in my 30s. No one cared. Nobody offered me a penny to stay. To compare me to the whore of Akron is absurd.

      As for vitriol, you ought to read my LeBron book. Maybe then you’ll understand Joe’s post better.

    • Mikey says:

      Scott, thanks for the reply. I haven’t read your book although yeah, maybe I should.

      People leave their hometowns when they think they have a better opportunity elsewhere. That’s the world we live in. The difference between LeBron and you or me is just a matter of degrees (although granted it’s a lot of degrees).

    • Peg says:

      Mikey, I can’t speak for anyone else on why they root for LeBron to fail, but my reason is simple. Winning a championship shouldn’t be that easy. That’s it. That’s why I want him to fail. There’s something in my brain that doesn’t allow me to root for superstar players to do what they did 2 years ago, and in the process being so dismissive of every other team standing in their way. Granted I have the advantage of not being a Heat fan, so this sensibility came easier. But that’s my reasoning. If the Heat win, then LeBron was right. And I can’t have him be right.

    • akno21 says:

      Did you also root against Kobe because he had it easy in being drafted onto a team with Shaquille O’Neal, and then again had it easy when his team got Pau Gasol for his brother and Kwame Brown? Have you rooted against Tim Duncan for having it easy and being drafted onto a team coached by Gregg Popovich? LeBron did NOT have it easy, being drafted onto a team that managed to acquire minimal surrounding talent, so god forbid he try to utilize a little agency into his career.

    • Peg says:

      @akno21: “Good job comparing two like things,” she said sarcastically. “Also, thank you for dismissing the reasons I provided afterwards for feeling this way and instead just focusing on that one word, ‘easy’. You’re great at arguing. Good job. Good effort.”

    • Peg says:

      I’ll add to that last part where you said “god forbid he try to utilize a little agency into his career”. This argument really bothers me. I don’t think anyone other than Cavs fans begrudge LeBron for leaving Cleveland, so I’m not sure where that even comes from. I don’t begrudge LeBron for leaving, and I don’t really see a reason for other people to (again, other than Cavs fans). But don’t begrudge me for rooting against him now for doing it. You know? It’s like people want it both ways. So the fact that it’s been 2 years now means I can’t still feel this way? Hell no. I don’t wish him harm, but I’ll always root for him to lose. Because again, my sporting sensibilities do not allow for championships to be won this way, and I won’t apologize for that.

    • akno21 says:

      I just don’t understand the functional difference between being drafted into a good situation and choosing to go to one. Playing with good teammates isn’t some cheap way to win a championship; it’s how EVERYONE who wins a championship wins a championship.

    • Peg says:

      Do you understand the functional difference between your right to not begrudge him for leaving under the circumstances in which he did and my right to do the opposite? Because that’s all this is. This feeling I have of hoping he loses, that’s all it is, a feeling. And since I don’t have any regrets in feeling this way, I won’t try to change it. To me, LeBron is just a villain, and he did it to himself. And I enjoy rooting against villains.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      LeBron is widely reviled because he made a big, shameless spectacle out of dumping his old team and fans in favor of a more glamorous city and an easier road to a title. It was akin to inviting all your friends and family to a huge, hyped up celebration only to announce that you were dumping your high school sweetheart wife in favor of the babysitter. It was heartless and I don’t understand how anyone can not understand this.

    • Cory Boyes says:

      @akno21: There is no functional difference between the two. Joe was writing about the psychological differences in what on-court play and semi-off court decisions can (or possibly cannot) tell us about an athlete’s psyche.

      Oh…and what Peg said.

    • akno21 says:

      Of course you have the right to root for or against LeBron, for whatever reason you want. I’m merely objecting, on a factual level, to the idea — which you propagated in the post to which I originally responded — that LeBron tried to take the “easy way out” in a way previous stars haven’t. And Mark, everything you said about the Decision might be true, it might be false, but it’s irrelevant to any meaningful analysis of LeBron James as a basketball player.

    • Mikey says:

      Come on Mark. You know it’s a business. It was nothing like having a party to leave your wife. It was having a party to accept a new job, which perfectly decent people do all the time.

    • adam says:

      Agree with Mikey – LeBron went to a new employer. But he did it in a really douchey way so now he’s a villain. He brought that part on himself.

      @akno21, I think there’s a perceived difference because LeBron and Wade orchestrated it themselves. Teams are always trying to get better; when a team is able to draft Shaq and Kobe or Jordan and Pippen* it could just as easily be viewed as skill rather than luck. But it wasn’t certain that Kobe and Pippen were going to be awesome. When LeBron and Wade joined forces, everyone already knew they were both awesome.

      *Yes I know Kobe and Pippen were not actually drafted by their teams but I view draft day trade as basically the same thing here.

      Finally there is a tendency for sports fans to side with management over labor. I have no idea why. Many sports fans seem uncomfortable with the idea of players making a ton of money as free agents, even though a) every one of us has the right to pick a new employer and b) the players bring in that money and if they don’t get it then the owners pocket even more. So fans who already don’t like free agency are probably going to like the decision even less.

    • Peg says:

      “I’m merely objecting, on a factual level, to the idea — which you propagated in the post to which I originally responded — that LeBron tried to take the “easy way out” in a way previous stars haven’t.”

      What in the world are you talking about? I’m not even sure what that sentence means. What’s this factual level you speak of? Seriously, I’m so confused. Are you saying that LeBron didn’t take the easy way out by signing with his super friends? Or are you saying other players do this all the time? If it’s the first thing, I’d say you’re wrong; that’s exactly what he did. And if you’re saying the second thing, please, give me an example so I can root against them too.

    • Peg says:

      “And Mark, everything you said about the Decision might be true, it might be false, but it’s irrelevant to any meaningful analysis of LeBron James as a basketball player.”

      You’re right. But aside from his seeming ability to look awkward at the end of big games, I don’t think anyone is referencing his basketball ability when rooting against him.

    • akno21 says:

      I’m saying that virtually every other superstar — Kobe (although he then kicked Shaq off his team and had to be bailed out by Pau Gasol magically becoming available for a bag of basketballs), Jordan, Duncan, Magic, Bird — had Wades and Boshses drafted/acquired onto their teams. LeBron didn’t have this in Cleveland, so he had to find his Pippens, Ginobilis, Worthys,and McHales through free agency. Trying to surround yourself with better talent isn’t taking the easy way out. It’s the ONLY way to win an NBA title; I’m sorry LeBron evidently values a championship over becoming a martyr for Cleveland.

    • Peg says:

      That point you’re making that other players who have won have done so with other talent surrounding them is fair, but I’ve never really said otherwise. Here’s the crux of my original point: “Winning a championship shouldn’t be that easy…There’s something in my brain that doesn’t allow me to root for superstar players to do what they did 2 years ago, and in the process being so dismissive of every other team standing in their way.” You took part of that point and ran with it while dismissing the rest. I probably should have just responded with a simple “Straw Man!!!”, then bowed out. So I apologize for not doing that sooner.

    • nscadu 9 says:

      akno, you said it yourself
      “Jordan, Duncan, Magic, Bird — had Wades and Boshses drafted/acquired onto their teams.”
      onto THEIR teams. None of those guys had the talent on their teams to begin with either and yes, they had to acquire it somehow, so they brought it in or had it brought in for them. Lebron had to find this too, except he didn’t surround himself with talent and help acquire it, he orchestrated a departure and went to the talent. And to top that off, he thought Wade and Bosh were enough to win 8 titles with little regard for all the role players vital to championship teams.

    • Chuck says:

      First a factual correction to Mikey’s original post somewhere way up the page. LeBron did not take more money to go to Miami. He signed with Miami for the same money per year and for one year less than he could have signed with Cleveland.

      And let me give you the caveate here: I was born and raised in Cleveland. Learned how to work, how to be an engineer and how to be a man in Cleveland. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about my hometown. So I come with a bias and a bit more knowledge of the LeBron James, Cleveland Ohio story.

      Here’s why every Clevelander hates LeBron James. He played us. It’s that simple. He looked, talked and acted like he understood our frustrations and he promised – that’s right I said promised – that he himself alone was going to end our sports frustrations. And we all believed him, because one, he was one of us, and two, he looked like the guy who could do it.

      But there were chinks in the armour. When things got tough – real tough – our boy folded. And then, during the “Decision” he folded big time.

      So now I want LeBron’s boast – not one, not two, etc. – to come true. Not any ever. I want him to be the Basketball Sisyphus, pushing that huge basketball uphill only to roll over him and again and again.

      Not as good as winning a championship, but it’ll hafta do for now.

    • akno21 says:

      @Peg: You say “the easy way out,” I say “giving himself a better chance to win,” let’s just agree to disagree at this point.

      @nscadu9: None of them had it on their teams to begin with? Was Magic not drafted onto a team with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Duncan onto a team with David Robinson? And are you seriously going to blame LeBron — a player — for not acquiring better talent for Cleveland? It’s not like Jordan personally executed the Pippen trade, or Tim Duncan was the guy scouting Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili overseas. Duncan doesn’t deserve credit for great things R.C. Buford did. LeBron could’ve left after his rookie contract, he gave Cleveland a chance; that front office had seven years to give him a second-best player better than Anderson Varejao and it failed, time after time. Chris Broussard’s reported LeBron tried to recruit Bosh to Cleveland in 2010; it’s perfectly likely LeBron left Cleveland because quality teammates just weren’t coming — through the draft, trades, or his own free-agent recruitment.

    • akno21 says:

      @chuck: So I guess the conference finals against Detroit and Orlando, or a Game 7 in Boston, weren’t tough situations?

    • Chuck says:

      akno21. Sure they were tough,but not “real tough”. All the money wasn’t on the table. That would be the NBA Championship against SA. He went down like a dog’s dinner.

  5. The Birchman says:

    I’m a HUGE fan Joe, I mean that very seriously. I have been for a long time.

    But I really dislike this post. It seems like you’re coming the conclusion that just because something HAS happened and CAN happen means that it SHOULD happen all of the time. LeBron played one of the greatest games ever in Game 5 against the Pacers — you said it yourself. You honestly believe that he doesn’t do that every game because he doesn’t WANT to (based on some very subjective analysis about “how he feels” and “how he looks”)? Kobe scored 81 points in a game once — why can’t we legitimately expect him to do that ALL of the time? Because he doesn’t like to go to “that place?”


    No. That’s not it. It’s because sometimes games like this happen — where the best player in the world plays one of the best games anyone can reasonably expect. It’s based partly on circumstances and luck which aren’t always in a player’s favor. It’s like the stars aligning — everything happens just right and you get a spectacle you can’t see anywhere else.

    It’s not like he hasn’t played up to expectations other than that. LeBron was the best player in basketball this year. He’s been the best player in these playoffs (and performed incredibly well in every single game so far). He might be the best player ever.

    Can’t we all just agree that we’re holding him to a standard that no other athlete in the history of the world has had to endure? Because we are. We so obviously are.

    • This comment has been removed by the author.

    • I’m in this line. Normally a big fan of Joe’s, but he loses his ability to be objective when it comes to Lebron. This article is a big mess of amateur psychology.

    • I think there is a large and thus far growing body of evidence that LeBron – as enormously gifted and generally dominant as he is – is simply not driven to succeed in the way that Jordan, Bird, Magic, Russell, West and other superstars of that ilk were driven. This is not unique – Chris Webber, for example, was a great talent (though of course not on the level of LeBron) with a great career who never wanted to be The One, but unlike LeBron, he never proclaimed himself “King,” never became the centerpiece of a one hour special proclaiming his free-agency choice, and never proclaimed that he would win umpteen championships. If LeBron had been humble, he might still have been criticized for lacking a single-minded devotion to winning, but he wouldn’t have attracted the haters that he has now. Anyway, as a sports fan, neither I nor anyone else needs to be entirely rational about hating an athlete!

    • The Birchman says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • The Birchman says:

      It’s okay to hate players, it really is. As a sports fan, I do it all the time.

      I just don’t buy this “not driven to succeed” argument. What is the growing body of evidence? He keeps getting better and better and put up one of the greatest playoff games we’ll ever see when his team ABSOLUTELY HAD TO HAVE IT in a series they were in danger of losing and this works against him?

      It’s confusing. That’s all. Everyone pretends to know what he thinks or how he feels, when all I tend to understand is what he does on the court. And, frankly, he’s very, very, VERY good at basketball.

      So were Jordan, Bird, Magic, Russell and West — that’s why they won.

      I feel like we’re lying to ourselves if we think otherwise.

    • adam says:

      LeBron is held to a different standard because he’s maybe the most naturally talented basketball player the world has ever seen.

      But I think there’s another factor. It’s not just that LeBron has good games and bad games – everyone does that. I have good days and bad days at work. What’s interesting is that on the bad playoff days LeBron seems so different in how he plays, his demeanor, everything. A few days ago he settled for a jumpshot when Rajon Rondo was guarding him one on one at the end of a game. That’s not a good day/bad day issue, that’s a mental error. Remember LeBron’s game 5 against the Celtics a couple years ago where it looked like he basically checked out? I can’t recall Jordan ever looking like that, his bad games usually involved missing too many shots. The only thing I can think of that compares at all is that one time Kobe essentially refused to shoot in the second half of a game 7. (Which could lead you to question Kobe’s will to win also)

    • Unknown says:

      I think Joe’s point is not that LeBron isn’t driven to ‘succeed’, but that LeBron’s definition of ‘succeed’ isn’t the same as ‘win’. I think this is a fascinating idea and seems to explain much of what we have seen with LeBron’s career.

      Its not bad that LeBron has a different definition of ‘success’ than Jordan had or what we, as fans, might want him to have. But seen through this lense, it explains a lot of what he has done (or not done).

  6. Phil says:

    Thank you for making me feel better about rooting against Albert Pujols.

    • N says:

      That doesn’t even make any sense. Albert Pujols is consistently the best player in baseball and left an amazing team that he had already won two World Series Championships with for a team with comparable players in a worse situation than the team he left. How is that anything like LeBron James.

    • Chris says:

      I think its a fair stance to take if you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan. I’m a Royals fan, so I certainly have little sympathy for the people across the state, but as sports fan I really dislike free agency. It makes sports more enjoyable when the games biggest stars are identified with their team. Pujols is a Cardinal. Manning is a Colt. Brady is a Patriot. Rooting against Elway’s Broncos in the 90s was much more fun than rooting against Manning’s broncos will ever be.

    • adam says:

      Would you want to be bound to the same employer for your whole career?

      oh and Manning was cut, it’s not like he had a choice.

  7. Zeke says:

    Great post, Joe.
    LeBron is driven to wow, not win. It takes talent to make people say, “Wow!” It takes heart to win.

  8. troy says:

    As a Celtics fan, I want to thank you, Joe, for writing that LeBron will score 25 or 30, thereby ensuring that he will score 50 or 60.

    I think The Birchman has it wrong. Not that LeBron isn’t held to a different standard, but that this standard is ‘why doesn’t he do it all the time?’ I hold EVERYONE to that standard — Wade, and certainly Rondo. Last night, I had the same thought about Chalmers, so automatic has he seemed shooting threes; I was wondering how the Celtics were winning that game, considering that the Heat can get Chalmers and Miller and Jones and Battier open threes at will, and that they seemingly make all of them. How does a team like that — much less a team like that with James and Wade — lose? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting elite players to play like it every game. It’s sort of human nature.

  9. akno21 says:

    How does LeBron’s defense square with the notion of him being some Showtime-esque player? His Cleveland teams specialized in rather ugly low-80s playoff games, and Miami’s been stronger defensively than offensively in both of his South Beach seasons. Individually, too, he’s more than chase-down blocks, from frequently taking charges to guarding everyone from Rajon Rondo to Kevin Garnett. Do we just attribute this to his incredible, “natural” talent, or can we actually use it as a counterpoint to the pyschobabble?

  10. Dinky says:

    I agree with you, Joe. I’ve experienced it. When the octogenarian owner of the Oakhurst bridge club asked us to try and earn her the gold points she needed to make life master, I played the best bridge of my life. I also became a hand hog and wouldn’t even chat with one lovely lady who came to our table. My partner said he just started putting me in insane contracts because I would make them. The thing is, I didn’t have fun, I had no social experiences, there were no jokes or good times: it was all about winning Helen her gold points (which we did). It wasn’t the kind of player I want to be, same as raising the dead and carrying the dead Cavaliers made Shazaam and LeBron be different than they wanted to be. The flip side, at least for LeBron, is that he is a professional basketball player, and he owes his team that level of performance, even if it is a dark place.

    • patrick says:

      The owner of the club wasn’t a Life Master? That is shocking–unless your story is from 1940, becoming a Life Master should have involved little more than attending a sufficient number of tournaments. Also, winning and playing the best bridge of your life is “good times” and “fun,” at least for me. Chatting with little old ladies is not why I play.

      I thought what Joe said was interesting about Lebron’s comments implying he wants to win in blowouts. But jesus, he plays really really well in close games too! Give him a break. He’s a phenomenal player. Stop with the pop psychology.

      I’m sure you can pick your favorite example of a player who couldn’t win the big one, until he did. It doesn’t mean he changed or matured. It means the ball didn’t bounce his way and then it did. We all love convenient narratives, though!

  11. ESPN analysts are VERY good at ignoring everything they’ve said before, and going off of whatever the latest game result is. Barry Melrose has done a lot of this during these hockey playoffs. Going into the game he says “The Rangers just look too strong, I think they’ll win and move on to the next round,” then after the Caps win it’s “The Caps are really coming together and I think they’ll take this series.” Given how evenly matched some of the NHL playoff series were this season, I’m not going to give Melrose too much grief about it, but at SOME point you think he’d have been willing to say “This game was a fluke, those happen sometimes, and I still think ____________ will close this series out.”

  12. Frankie B says:

    Joe, your first Posterisk summarizes perfectly my feelings about LeBron. Thank you.

  13. Joe, I’ll admit, I saw this and thought, okay, another JoePo Lebron post. That’s fine. But then I read it, and it’s vintage stuff. I’ve been replaying my first true video game obsession, Final Fantasy (yes, the NES original), and I am almost done without ever coming all that close to dying (okay, there’s this one enemy called the Sorcerer who can both stun and kill without doing any damage–you don’t die from losing all your hit points, you just die from random sorcerer magic. That thing’s gotten me twice, but otherwise I’m death free). Anyway, I keep wondering if I like dominating, or wouldn’t it be fun to almost die, but then pull it out. Except, I don’t think I’m going to manufacture that scenario. Anyway, great, observant post.

  14. Linus says:

    Ah! But it appears Science may actually contradict you.. perhaps LeBron chokes not because he doesn’t care enough, but perhaps he chokes because he cares too much.

    • According to the writer, People who choke “really want to win, and so they get unravelled by the pressure of the moment. The simple pleasures of the game have vanished; the fear of losing is what remains.” That’s consistent with Joe’s supposition that LeBron at times seems uncomfortable with carrying his team. The Jordans of this world seem to have the unique ability to suppress thoughts of losing. LeBron has many talents, but it’s not clear that this is one of them.

  15. adam says:

    I remember a Bill Simmons article where he picked a single word to describe each of the all time NBA greats. For people like Jordan, Bird, and Kobe it was “win” for Shaq and Wilt it was “dominate.”

    For LeBron the word was “amaze” and I thought of that when reading this article. Sure, LeBron wants to win, but what really brings him joy are the things Joe talked about, dunks on fast breaks, behind the back passes, etc.

    • The Birchman says:

      Do we know this?

      I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but with LeBron — more than any other player I’ve ever seen — we tend to infer what he’s thinking and how he feels (when we don’t have much of an idea at all).

      What has led us to believe that LeBron is different than those other guys?

    • Chris says:

      We don’t know. But what we do know is those other guys won championships and Lebron hasn’t won anything.

      How else can you explain his occasional shrinking in the big moment. There is a difference between having a bad game because your shot is off or your step is a little slow and simply disappearing for long stretches at the end of games.

      That is what is so baffling about Lebron. Why does there always have to be some rational explanation to root against someone/team. Lebron is a great player, but I will root against him.

    • adam says:

      Of course we don’t know what he’s really thinking inside, but it sure is the image he projects.

      We also don’t know for sure that Michael Jordan was so obsessed with winning that he was borderline psychotic, but it sure looked that way.

      It’s also possible that LeBron wants to win just as much as Jordan, but it manifests itself in completely different ways.

    • adam says:

      One other thing, which also happens to be why LeBron is so disliked these days. LeBron joined one of his arch-rivals instead of trying to beat him. That’s an indicator he’s not as competitive as some of those other guys.

    • akno21 says:

      That argument’s never made any sense to me. LeBron and Wade never played against each other in the playoffs and never were constantly compared to each other the way LeBron and Kobe were. Yes, they play roughly the same position (which makes LeBron’s choice in teammates somewhat odd from a basketball perspective, since he’d probably have “fit” better in Chicago), but we treat this as if LeBron responded to losing to Boston two of his last three years in Cleveland by signing with the Celtics, which isn’t what happened. This argument just tells me we’re totally inconsistent about what we want from our superstars — no one applauded Kobe for essentially booting arch-rival Shaq off the Lakers so he could beat him. We’re fine with superstars teaming with superstars if general managers do it for them; if they do it themselves, what’s the difference?

    • adam says:

      LeBron and Wade are both on the short list of NBA alpha dogs (my definition: someone who can be the best player on a championship team. Currently that list is Dirk, Kobe, Wade, Durant, LeBron, maybe Rose, maybe Howard, maybe Paul). That makes them competitors.

      The difference is perception. I’m not saying it’s all that different, I’m saying people view it differently for the reasons I described elsewhere here.

      As for Kobe booting Shaq off so he could beat him, Kobe booted Shaq off because they couldn’t coexist. Breaking up an existing team is a completely different situations – it’s not a joining forces in reverse.

    • nscadu 9 says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • nscadu 9 says:

      Biggest difference in perception is that Lebron went to someone else’s team rather than bringing talent to his team. Jordan put the Bulls on the map, Duncan made you pay attention to San Antonio, Bird/Majic invigorated the league on the teams that drafted them, Thomas and Dumars created the Bad Boys in Detroit. We’d be looking at this differently if Wade and Bosh came to Cleveland.

      Have to agree with Adam regarding Kobe/Shaq and I believe Kobe got a lot more props for his titles without Shaq.

    • akno21 says:

      But with the way we denigrate LeBron for joining Wade, you’d think we’d have given Kobe props or something for ditching Shaq and trying to win without a second alpha dog.

    • adam says:

      I think Kobe will be remembered as a better player than Shaq, and you have a fair point that maybe Kobe should be respected even more for going at it alone (however, working against him is the way he went about ditching Shaq). I definitely view the 2 recent titles as “his” titles whereas the first three I think of as Shaq’s.

      I think nscadu has a good point about joining another team leaving a bad taste. I personally think this is unfortunate because I very much believe that players have a right to play wherever they want just like we have a right to work for whomever will employ us. I also think there’s a sense that LeBron is “cheating” in a sense by trying to short circuit the natural growth that a great player leading a great team goes through, such as OKC now and Jordan’s Bulls rising up over Detroit. That being said, taking that Cleveland team to the finals one year and best record in the league one or two other times is a pretty awesome accomplishment.

      On the other hand, Bird, Magic, and Duncan went to teams already stacked, so that could be viewed as “cheating” as well. But you can’t fault them personally for that either; they go where drafted and it’s not like they would turn down going to an already great team.

    • akno21 says:

      I’m not saying Kobe should be respected for ditching Shaq, just that based on the way we treat LeBron, to me, the logical extension is that we’d have rewarded Kobe for ditching Shaq. Kobe ditching Shaq, of course, didn’t work — he didn’t reach the second round again until the Lakers acquired Gasol, who, while certainly not a dominant force like Shaq, was probably a top-10/15 player when the Lakers won those two recent titles. That Kobe’s teams were never anything more than “decent” when he was at the peak of his powers (2006ish, I would say) just goes to the point players, even the best of them, don’t win titles by themselves.

      I certainly see the point about leaving a bad taste, but with the OKC comparison, it’s worth noting that LeBron was essentially so good in his first few seasons that Cleveland never got another high-lottery pick. OKC’s great now because Durant was nowhere near as good in his first two years as LeBron was — Westbrook and Harden were both top-5 picks. LeBron was a victim of his own success in a way Durant wasn’t.

  16. The Sklar brothers (of Sklarbro Country, Cheap Seats, etc.) have mentioned this too. LeBron seems to lack that killer instinct that Jordan had, which, as the Sklars say, is probably bad for his basketball career (as far as championships go) but better for him when he retires from basketball. Jordan, they note, is still searching to reclaim that competitive edge, which may explain why he seems compelled to bring back the Hitler ‘stache (who are we to tell him he can’t wear it) in his Hanes commercials or gamble away large chunks of his money or try to run an NBA franchise.

  17. Phil Y. says:

    Civilization was such a great game. So comforted to know that one of my favorite sports writers also had a fondness for such a tremendous old computer game.

  18. Mark says:

    All these things they are saying about Lebron were the same things they were saying about Wilt in his prime. Until his team wins a couple of titles, they will keep saying the same things

  19. adam says:

    I did find it interesting that Joe was talking about the ESPN analysts massive flip flop, when in his last LeBron post Joe himself said something about no team being able to match up with the Heat

  20. pyrotor says:

    MAybe it has already been said a couple of times, but do you really, I mean really (!!) think, that a proffesional athlete can just say at a random moment, you know what, enough of this charade, I’m going to dominate today and nobody will stop me. Do you honestly think that he doesn’t want to this all the time. It’s just like in Baseball (or any other sport really) when people say that player A is a clutch player and player B isn’t because player A performs sooo good under pressure….It’s ludicrous, we’re talking about proffesional players here. They’re getting paid big time money to perform, they’re not fragile teenage minds that crumble easily under pressure. At the flip side, it’s even crazier to think that a player can just stand flip a switch and dominate an entire team. To say that is to dismiss the other team completly and forgetting we are talking about humans here. Eventhough they will try to do their very best every single time, sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes the ball will bounce of the ring, sometime that picture perfect pass won’t reach it’s target because the receiving player screwed up. That’s how it just is.

    To say Lebron doesn’t want this as much as other players is dumb. It’s bases on the assumption that because Lebron is otherwordly, he has to win every game and make every shot and grab every board. But we all know that in reality this isn’t possible, it’s not even logically to assume this but everyone gets caught up in it. And then, when our assumption is met with the expected reality, we all get mad and think that this player doesn’t want this. He’s weak, he doesn’t eat right, he just want to have fun, he’s not serious, he’s A-rod, he’s had a difficult upbringing and lots of other bullsh*t when in reality he’s probably trying his very best to win but the other team is maybe, just maybe better? Or playing better at that moment? Think about it….

    • adam says:

      I see what you’re saying and I agree with you especially on baseball – most if not all pros can handle the pressure just fine and I believe the ability to hit in the clutch is non-existent.

      But in baseball you bat once every nine times and your at-bat is barely influenced by your teammates at all, plus we know how to separate context-dependent stats like RBI.

      In basketball your playing style as a significant impact on the outcome of the game. A basketball player can choose to take half of his team shots or choose not to shoot at all. LeBron choose not to drive on Rajon Rondo. What I find interesting is that LeBron’s approach and playing style can vary so much.

      I concede that my only evidence is anecdotal observations and I could be very wrong. I suspect there are advanced basketball stats out there that could tell us whether LeBron simply has good and bad days, or whether his playing style differs dramatically.

    • pyrotor says:

      hmm ok, fair point. A basketball players’ action has more impact on a regular bases than a baseball players’, so i can see why if a player fails to ”show up” in the 4th quarter it has some kinda meaning. But still, kinda (or want to) believe that it has more to do with fatigue or the opponent than just sheer will of competitiveness.

  21. Mikey says:

    Two things seem to frequently get left out of the LeBron/Jordan comparisons. One is age. LeBron is now the same age Jordan was when he won his first title. Through age 26 LeBron had actually won more than Jordan had just by reaching the Finals twice. If Simmons had performed his one word exercise on Jordan at age 27 it’s very possible he would have picked “amaze” over “win”.

    Another is coaching. Isn’t it just possible that the perceived will to win isn’t as much of a factor as the enormous difference between Phil Jackson and Erik Spoelstra? Jackson is without a doubt an all-time top three pro basketball coach. Spoelstra……isn’t.

    • adam says:

      Good points. I do think Jordan’s hyper-competitive nature showed very early in his career. But in Jordan’s case people wondered if he was too selfish of a scorer to ever lead a team to a championship which is not exactly what LeBron is being criticized for.

    • Chris says:

      Lebron is unselfish almost to a fault. Sometimes it seems like he forgets that he is an athletic freak and that he can impose himself more on people.

      I don’t think there is some switch that some players have that allow them to instantly be better in crucial situations, but I do think its possible that some players can play below their talent.

      Some people are looking at this backwards. It isn’t about Lebron going above and beyond his known talent level, its about playing at that known level.

    • Finnhere says:

      Jordan had the benefit of learning HOW to win from Dean Smith. Granted the NBA is a lot different then college ball, winning is still winning. The great players learn when to “take over” late in a game. The Great Ones become the Selfish Ones. Passing off to a teammate is the last option.

      After 6-7 years experience in the NBA you would think Bron would have figured it out by now. He does it during the regular season. Perhaps he has a fear of being “The Goat” on the BIG stage?

    • nscadu 9 says:

      Coaching is defintely a huge factor, particularly when dealing with superstars and egos. Jackson with Jordan, Pippen, Rodman is the best example. Only so many coaches can handle 2 big stars and a personality like Rodman.
      I buy less into the college pedigree. It helps in maturity as a young player and the pressure of a NCAA tournament, but eventually Kobe and Garnett were able to figure things out and not every great went deep in March Madness.
      I think it will come for Lebron, he has to embrace the pressure and dive into the melee like he did in Cleveland. Definitely don’t see it happening 8 times. Though there was a time when I thought Phil Mickelson would never win a major, but he turned it around mentally at some point.

  22. Matt Wenger says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. adam says:

    Off topic…Joe, your poll is missing Breaking Bad.

    (warning: all three of those shows go against your optimistic nature)

  24. nscadu 9 says:

    The hatred for Lebron comes from his outlook on winning compared to other greats. Jordan, Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, Bird knew they need a supporting cast and brought the parts in rather than orchestrating a departure to play with another great players and a buddy and act like that was all he needed. Paxson, Kerr, Kukoc, Fox, Fisher, Harper, Ginobli, Parker, McHale, Parish, Carr, a role playing Walton were all vital and the elite players that lead these franchises know that and knew it would never easy, especially after the first one. For that matter it is David Robinson in his twilight knew he needed a team to get it done and would have to defer to others. Boston’s current big 3 knew it would take more than them and knew it would be difficult. Garnett’s move to Boston was not of the same orchestration of Lebron and he certainly wasn’t making championship predictions. I can forget about the ridiculous ‘Decision’ and follow up pressers as simply playing into spectacle, but it would’ve been easier to stomach had everyone come to Lebron rather than him going to them.
    Jordan talked about how badly he wanted to defeat the leagues elite and take his game to another level, Lebron appears to want to be teammates with the elite and feed off of them.
    Of course, if the Heat do manage to turn things around and win this year, the real question is whether one championship makes Lebron complacent. If he gets that monkey off his back will he have the desire and mental fortitude to deal with being defending champs and going through tougher scrutiny and hungrier players to win multiple championships.

    • adam says:

      Let’s not forget the perception generated by The Decision and, perhaps even worse the “not 1, not 2, not 3….” party – the championship party before they even played a game. I think if LeBron had simply called a subdued press conference explaining why he was leaving and then went under the radar, he would be viewed a lot differently. Except in Cleveland. But that’s fair.

  25. jim says:

    Point 1: Do you know how many other people in the last 25 years have pulled off [what LaBron James did against Indiana] in a playoff game? Nobody.

    Point 2: When that Indiana game ended, I wondered: Why don’t we see that LeBron more often?

    Point 3: please see point 1.

    But when a middle-aged man has already spent countless hours coming up with a multi-thousand word Aladdin metaphor, by God, he will use it!

  26. Mikey says:

    I missed the game last night. How did LeBron do? Another big-game choke job, no doubt.

  27. You also cannot wish for more wishes…

  28. liulu haoma says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. liulu haoma says:

    Love your words so much.thank you for sharing this article in your blog.Hope you can also come with me to

  30. Joe, your first Posterisk summarizes perfectly my feelings about LeBron. Thank you.


  31. Will says:

    One of my all time favorite post especially coupled with the next post.
    Thanks Joe.

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