Letting Go of LeBron
It's not us. It's him.
Following what happened under the bright lights in Dallas and South Beach during the 2011 NBA Finals, the problem of LeBron James' crunch-time psyche can no longer be ignored. It's the sort of thing that must keep Miami Heat president Pat Riley up at night staring at his five championship rings.
He must have felt pretty good about getting a sixth one when he landed both James and Chris Bosh and re-signed Dwyane Wade last summer. LeBron even publicly promised at least a half-dozen more championships at the tacky pep rally the Heat staged at American Airlines Arena on July 9, 2010. In an earlier nonsensical moment the same day, he said, "Once the games start, I mean, it's gonna be easy."
That unbelievably arrogant LeBron — the one who preened and posed and fully bought into the message seeming to be espoused that day that the Heat organization values three players above the very idea of team — was a shadow of himself by mid-June.
After criticizing his former Cavaliers teammates on May 26 for dying down in the moment during his previous postseason appearances, James did exactly that in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, scoring just eight points, and never recovered from it.
For us, it couldn't have been scripted better if Dan Gilbert himself had typed it up in a Comic Sans font. LeBron's fourth-quarter flameouts were made all the sweeter by the fact the Heat were beaten by a team with a single superstar and a tight, polished band of role players. It was an organization that had spent years chasing the Larry O'Brien Trophy, a team not unlike the one we hoped James would lead to the same heights here.
We'll be the first to admit, the nationwide LeBron James bashing that followed was fun. The piling-on was epic, previously unimaginable, really. It felt good. Demons were exorcised. But let's be clear: If we stay at this party much longer, we're going to end up with a nasty hangover.
Right now, we're riding the crest of a big, beautiful wave of public discontent with James, which he cemented with his invisible-man act as his season ticked away and his tone-deaf swipe at all his detractors, who he said have the same "personal problems" whether the Heat win or lose. I assume that to mean having to worry about money and family and just generally not being a rich, 26-year-old professional athlete who does precisely whatever the hell he wants. He capped it all off with a dismissive, "They have to get back to the real world at some point."
And in the real world, LeBron James has one very large problem of his own: If the NBA season is significantly delayed or even scrapped altogether due to the lockout, it'll be that much longer before he has the chance to erase his image as an angry, underachieving superstar who couldn't even shortcut his way to a championship.
And the longer LeBron remains the villain, the more pathetic we'll look for playing the part of jilted lover. Our free pass for that got an expiration date stamped on it the day a pingpong ball that once belonged to the Clippers and had a 2.8 percent chance of giving the Cavaliers the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft bounced our way and, subsequently, put Duke point guard Kyrie Irving in a Cavs uniform.
Conventional wisdom would say that kind of thing doesn't happen here. Maybe we've just suffered enough. As LeBron infamously tweeted in January after the Lakers smoked the Cavs, "Crazy. Karma is a b**** ... Gets you every time. It's not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!"
If the current plight of LeBron James is any indication, I'd say he's on to something.
12:00 AM EST
July 21, 2011