Can LeBron James Do Anything Right?

Illustration for article titled Can LeBron James Do Anything Right?

Following the Miami Heat loss to the Utah Jazz, a loss in which LeBron scored 17 in the fourth quarter but passed on the final possession, the argument goes like this: "It was the right 'basketball' play, but I would like to see LeBron take that shot." Or, as ESPN's resident basketball-as-played in-a-vacuum analyst Jon Barry put it: "Great basketball play? Yes. Bad timing? Absolutely." This, in a nutshell, is the story of LeBron's career as told by talking heads. And this, in a nutshell, is total bullshit.


Putting aside the very legitimate argument that the Heat would not have been in a position to win the game without LeBron making two huge three-point shots in the final minute (or the equally legitimate argument that they may not have been in a position to lose the game without Dwyane Wade forgetting he played basketball and not hockey), do you want to have your cake, or eat it? To criticize a player for doing the right thing but, by definition, wishing he did the wrong thing is about the most disingenuous thing a fan or pundit can do. Aside from claiming the play was correct but for when it occurred, that is.

The respect of sports fans—and those who are paid to tell sports fans what to think—is gained in one of two ways: being so awe-inspiringly good one can only shake his head in disbelief or playing the game the "right way." We love superstars and we love team players. LeBron James by most accounts is both and can't seem to win either way.

LeBron is a physical specimen capable of doing just about anything on the court himself yet he also understands how to play basketball within a team structure. He is praised for his "court vision" and can pass and find the open man. What's more, he is willing to give it up to the open man when he finds him. Udonis Haslem was wide open and LeBron James was double covered. That is why it was the "right basketball play." That is why he passed the ball. Players are routinely praised for unselfish, team-oriented play yet whenever a superstar does it, he gets labelled "soft," "unclutch" or lacking in that "killer instinct."

The superstar is thus put in the most untenable of situations. He must be successful at all times, by himself. If Lebron took the shot and made it, LeBron and the Heat would have done exactly what is expected: beat the Jazz in March. If he took the shot and missed, the story would be LeBron forcing a shot because of the All-Star Game debacle. And when he passed it up, he's weak but with the all but irrelevant caveat that he made the right decision. This kind of framework makes it impossible to appreciate the very greatness that created it.

It's fun to hate on LeBron because of his poor Decision-making and the ridiculous introduction ceremony performance, but let's be honest about it. Let's kill LeBron when he actually screws up. If he has an atrocious performance in a playoff game, let him have it. Just remember that somehow it has become impossible to be both great and play with all the other qualities we respect, admire and often wish our superstars exhibited.