OK, this year it’s official: I DO feel sorry for LeBron James

Here's LeBron looking to pass again. Why doesn't he shoot? (AP photo)

Here's LeBron looking to pass again. Why doesn't he shoot? (AP photo)

A year ago I almost felt sorry for LeBron James. This time there’s no “almost” — I do feel sorry for him. He cannot simply play a game anymore, and woe be unto him should his team happen to lose one.

About playing the game: The general idea is to win by whatever means necessary, but LeBron and the Miami Heat are held to a different standard. They have to win in a way that satisfies their critics, which has become impossible because there are too many critics. (I know. Before my sympathy button got pushed, I was one.)

You can see it at the end of these games against Boston. The Celtics trust one another; they don’t care who takes the last shot. The Heat may profess not to care, but deep down they know that there’ll be hell to pay if LeBron James — or, failing that, Dwyane Wade — doesn’t take the last shot.

And then come the permutations: What if LeBron is triple-teamed (as happened in Game 4) and passes to Udonis Haslem, who misses? Was LeBron wrong for not forcing the issue? Aren’t Great Players supposed to Make Something Happen? Would Michael Jordan have passed in such a situation?

(For the record, the answer is yes. Jordan would have and demonstrably did. The title-winning shot in the 1997 NBA finals was made by Steve Kerr off a pass from Jordan. The title-winning shot in the 1993 NBA finals was made by John Paxson off a sequence that commenced with Jordan driving and passing to Scottie Pippen, who passed to Horace Grant, who found Paxson on the perimeter.)

Back to Game 4: LeBron got ripped in some circles for not shooting at the end of regulation, and then, with LeBron disqualified on fouls, Wade was reduced to hoisting a contested 3-pointer at the end of overtime, which led to him getting ripped, too. So which is it: Is a superstar supposed to take the last shot no matter what or isn’t he?

Apparently the answer is: The superstar can do as he wants, so long as he doesn’t miss. Trouble is, superstars miss, too. Jordan missed more than half the shots he took as a professional. (Not many more, it should be noted.) A guy who takes the last shot cannot be afraid, but the pressure on the Heat — the initial helping having been self-inflicted — has made it difficult for them to breathe, let alone dare.

After Tuesday’s Game 5, the sixth paragraph of the Associated Press report began thusly: “James finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds for Miami, though he went eight minutes without scoring in the final quarter.”

The difference between the Heat and the Celtics is that the latter side knows its can lose without recrimination. Garnett and Pierce and Allen and Rondo have proved they can win a title. When LeBron made The Decision in July 2010, he reduced his career to two questions: Has he won it all yet, and if not, why not? Is he not good enough? (Ridiculous question.) Is there some sort of character flaw? (If there is, it didn’t show when he lifted the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA finals by himself.) Is he scared?

Given that LeBron James is 27 and has, counting playoffs, scored 22,000 NBA points, that question would seem laughable — until you actually watch him play a postseason game, and then you begin to wonder. You wonder if the nit-picking of every on-court decision hasn’t gotten to him in a way it never got to Jordan. (Then again, there was no Twitter when MJ ruled and no real blogs, and even ESPN was a kinder, gentler place.)

All things being equal, the Heat should beat the Celtics. All things are not equal. Boston doesn’t have to impress anybody. The Heat do, but in the 21st century there’s no way impress everybody. When LeBron joined forces with his Super Friends, he had no way of knowing that in search of ultimate victory he’d plopped himself into the ultimate no-win situation.

If the Heat prevail, they’ll have done so because of their talent. (In other words, in spite of themselves.) If they fall, it’ll be because of some sort of moral failing, even if we on the periphery have to concoct one.

Comparing/contrasting LeBron James and Michael Jordan has been done so often as to make the eyes glaze over, but in LeBron’s second postseason run with Miami the key difference is obvious: We watched Jordan to see him win, and we’re watching LeBron to see him lose. He’ll eventually get his title — he’s too good not to do it — but he might never escape that trap. He set himself up, and we’re only too happy to keep knocking him down.

By Mark Bradley

140 comments Add your comment

Rickster

June 6th, 2012
10:25 am

Mark Bradley

June 6th, 2012
10:26 am

Rickster

June 6th, 2012
10:26 am

And I feel sorry for LeBron James, too. He’s never been kudoed by Mark!

Ostrich Racer

June 6th, 2012
10:29 am

How many times have I felt sorry for LeBron?

Not two … not one ….

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Guy Bailey

June 6th, 2012
10:35 am

Nada sympathy here although I am warmed to see a Boston team, that the Hawks are not that far behind in terms of talent and personnel, shutting the Heats collective big yaps.

Big Al

June 6th, 2012
10:39 am

He brought it on himself with the ridiculous “not one, not two, not three, not four…….” proclamation after “The Decision”.

Dan Breeding

June 6th, 2012
10:44 am

Dancing around on a stage and acting like you are the end all be all of everything basketball then claiming you will win multiple championships leaves you absolutely no room for sympathy. Act like a braggadocious fool and when you dont produce you will be called out for it, period.

Brian

June 6th, 2012
10:48 am

LeBron is a cry baby and can’t even own up to his tweets most of the time.

PureEvil

June 6th, 2012
10:49 am

No… I don’t think so!!! I really hope in 3 years when Wade Bosh and Lebrons contracts are up they’ll be ringless!! It would be fantastic!!

CrαZy

June 6th, 2012
10:51 am

I could never feel sorry for a man that makes that much money to play a kids game!! I’m not saying it’s unfair or that he doesn’t deserve the money. I just have a hard time feeling bad about him not winning! I’d feel sorry for him if something tragic happened to him or loved ones, but not about a game!! That’s silly!!!

sheepdawg

June 6th, 2012
10:54 am

does anyone care?

corkylovesbeer

June 6th, 2012
10:56 am

I feel sorry for being a atlanta fan

BigDawg

June 6th, 2012
10:56 am

He made his own bed!

Amazing

June 6th, 2012
10:58 am

Great post! Mr. Bradley. It is a shame that one bad decision (not pun intended) has overshadowed the sportsmanship and teamwork he demonstates on the court. He will not use it as an excuse but the loss of Bosh has had a huge impact on this series given Boston’s size and experience. Give Boston credit for giving the old guys something to cheer about!

Nate Klaiber

June 6th, 2012
10:58 am

“What if LeBron is triple-teamed (as happened in Game 4) and passes to Udonis Haslem, who misses?”

LeBron wasn’t triple teamed, he dribbled into the defenders and then passed it off. You can watch it here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZUtsYNTRgw). He ran into help side defense – which would have happened any other play, too.

But then again, this gives him an excuse….

Brian

June 6th, 2012
10:59 am

He said 5-6 championships but forgot 1 comes before 5. Should have considered college.

That kid in Miami

June 6th, 2012
11:00 am

Good Effort! Good Job! Good Effort! Good Job!

Freddy Freeman = Nick Esasky

June 6th, 2012
11:00 am

All you naysayers (a much better word than “haters”) out there will rue the day just a mere three years hence when the Heat have won their third straight title.

Trojan

June 6th, 2012
11:01 am

I couldn’t care less about where he took his talentZ. Karma is heck and Lebron (ESPN’s King) is due a lot of bad karma.

TalentZ!

Brian

June 6th, 2012
11:02 am

Its Durants year anyway. Thunder is more balanced than Celts and Heat.

hollywood

June 6th, 2012
11:04 am

Mark:

I totally agree with you, I am a BIG!!! Jordan fan and he is the G.O.A.T, but I cringe at the thought of his legacy if Paxton, Kerr, Pippen, Horace Grant did not hit those shots, or get the rebounds, of if the officials would have called a foul on Jordan against Byron Nelson. If you Win all of your misses, losses are forgiven, but if the ball does not bounce your way, you are toast!

James

June 6th, 2012
11:12 am

In all fairness the criticism is justified. Lebron MVP this year. Talent they are ranked amoung the best (Wade, Lebron, Bosh).Number 2 seed in the playoff. In your comparison to others such as Jordan, the hard line is great players finds the will the way to win. Jordan would not have passed the ball unless he trusted his others. Jordan first year he scored lots of points in games he lost. He learned to win, we all knew he can shoot, and yes he had talent. But with Lebron he has not learned to win in the moment that makes players famous.

evil empire

June 6th, 2012
11:21 am

wade is killing the heat…constant pouting….

matt cryin

June 6th, 2012
11:28 am

How about a trade of Joe Johnson for D-Wade straight up. D-Wade is a 1 who doesn’t want to be a
2, and Joe is a 2 who doesn’t want to be a 1.

Najeh Davenpoop

June 6th, 2012
11:34 am

Oh yeah, poor guy, he’s only worth nine figures and was universally beloved before he took a dump on his hometown on national television.

I hope he retires ringless. Unless the Heat trade him to the Hawks for Joe Johnson.

anonymous

June 6th, 2012
11:35 am

The rest of the Miami players will not come close to their own potential with those 3 around. That is the sad consequence.

Najeh Davenpoop

June 6th, 2012
11:38 am

“The difference between the Heat and the Celtics is that the latter side knows its can lose without recrimination. Garnett and Pierce and Allen and Rondo have proved they can win a title.”

Yeah, and before KG and Pierce and Allen won a title, they faced largely the same pressure that LeBron faces. Pierce and KG in particular had reps of being players who put up big stats but couldn’t win championships, much like LeBron. In LeBron’s case it is magnified because there is literally nobody in NBA history who has his accomplishments but hasn’t won a ring. If he doesn’t win a ring, he will literally be the only player that good who never did.

So yes, the pressure is merited. And so is the scorn, thanks to the Decision.

Jay

June 6th, 2012
11:47 am

Could it possibly be that the Celtics are a better team? They have a better bench and they run their sets much better down the stretch. It is easy to defend the Heat in crunch time because you what they will try to do. Larry’s Celtics, Magic’s Lakers, Micheal’s Bulls were all great teams who knew how to play team ball when it mattered. The Heat don’t and that is why they have a hard time winning the big one. LeBron is great player but it takes great teams to win in the playoffs.

Joey

June 6th, 2012
11:51 am

I suppose you feel sorry for Joe Johnson too, MB? It’s not his fault he makes $20M, yet disappears in big games too . . .

Pretty soon, South Beach may hope the King takes his talents back to that other beach aka “The Mistake by the Lake.”

Brian

June 6th, 2012
11:53 am

Side note: Cleveland is not his home town. He’s from Akron and there is a difference. Second, I have found it very interesting with how social networks have transformed the whole sports life. Imagine the mental stress caused by how quickly any little thing is caught and exploded note scene. Example the little kid saying good job. Never would have become a thing if it weren’t for cameras everywhere, twitter, and Facebook type outlets. Can’t even imagine the pressure.

Adam Keefe

June 6th, 2012
11:54 am

Don’t let your mouth write checks your @$$ can’t cash………..

Joey

June 6th, 2012
11:54 am

“D-Wade is a 1 who doesn’t want to be a 2, and Joe is a 2 who doesn’t want to be a 1.”
****************************************************
That’s too funny matt.

You left out a little part though.

“Joe is a 2 who doesn’t want to be a 1, but wants to be paid like a 1.”

Derek

June 6th, 2012
11:56 am

I don’t feel sorry for him at all. He will never get sympathy from me after telling the fans that they could go back to living their pathetic lives while he went about living his great life. He’s the one that made The Decision and while he had not choice but to go forward with The Celebration, no one made him guarantee his 8 championships. Wade and James trash talk and taunt every chance they get when they are ahead, but they cannot seal the deal in close games against good competition. Then they pout when the trash talking is turned on them.

In LJ’s defense, I think his coach is horrible. Phil Jackson had an offense with set plays that allowed MJ to pass to good shooters that could knock down game winning shots. The Heat look like they are running open gym plays at the end of games and the results demonstrate that.

Still, not one made him sign there & when he went there he had to know it was championship or bust. You can’t form a Dream Team and not win a ring. He would have had no problem taking the glory if the Heat were on the verge of back-to-back titles. He has to live with the negativity of them not being able to get the job.

Najeh Davenpoop

June 6th, 2012
11:58 am

“Cleveland is not his home town. He’s from Akron and there is a difference”

Distance from Cleveland to Akron – 39 miles
Distance from Atlanta to Buford – 38 miles

Not buying it.

I dropped my fried twinkie

June 6th, 2012
11:59 am

Mark what was wrong with that? It is well known joke.
You have to be CRAZY to feel SORRY for LeBron. He did it to himself.

Billy

June 6th, 2012
12:00 pm

you shouldn’t feel at all sorry for lebron, he still his entire life hasn’t figured out what a team is.. once he stops being a self centered egotistical prick, maybe he will win when it counts instead of choking per usual

Matt from MN

June 6th, 2012
12:01 pm

Nope. Sorry. I don’t feel one ounce of sadness for Mr. James. He brought all of this on himself with the crap about deciding where to play and then the idiotic “The Decision” program. Also, he’s been over-hyped from Day 1 in the league.

Mike Mitch

June 6th, 2012
12:06 pm

Great Article! I agree 100%. If a player doesnt have the mentality of winning multiple rings, I wouldn’t wan him on my team. As for the Lebron hate, it only shows the American mentality in its purest form. How could you hate this guy for leaving one contracting job for another? Yet when Eli Manning declares that he won’t play for the Chargers, it’s ok. No one considered him an egoist at all. Why? Maybe if you’re you’re black and wealthy in America, you’re suppose do what this society expects or tell you to do. It’s never been such a strong hate for a white person on any sport regardless of their actions. And Lebron is easily the best player in the game. The “Kobe System”, the advertisement campaign for Kobe fits Lebron much better. Only he can fail at “success” level. In other words, a triple double is failure for Lebron.

ATLJorge

June 6th, 2012
12:06 pm

I have as much sympathy for Le BRA Janes as his mother does for valet parking staff….

DetroitBraves

June 6th, 2012
12:10 pm

There was a commercial some time ago, Nike I assume, where they showed a bunch of Jordan buzzer beaters and then showed him practicing in the gym (I may be getting the order mixed up). At the end his voice is heard to say something like ‘they talk about my X number of buzzer beaters. They don’t mention the Y number of times I missed at the end.’ I guess the deal for LeBron is he’s yet to hit that defining shot. When he does he may get some leniency when he misses. I’m not saying it’s fair, but I think that’s the deal. Not that he can’t miss just that the perception is that he always misses when it really counts.

Mike

June 6th, 2012
12:15 pm

I agree, Mark. The pressure is more on Miami, but even so, they are outgunned. The C’s have 4 different players that can take that last shot with confidence. All 4 have played very well in this series, even with a couple hampered by injuries. Chris Bosh not playing for Miami is HUGE. It cannot be understated. Without Bosh, Miami is one-dimensional, and the C’s can double off the Miami big men on Wade or James. Not to mention, Miami’s role players have to step up and fill an 18pt 8reb gap left by Bosh.

Still, the media is all over Lebron and Wade as you said, Mark. Its as if Miami should win the title even missing a big piece like Bosh on a team with not a lot of depth.

rayzr

June 6th, 2012
12:18 pm

I feel sorry for Lebron but only because OKC isnt going anywhere soon…and thats where all his championship trophies will be.

Mike

June 6th, 2012
12:19 pm

Lebron has let the championship fever grip him for years. The media kept comparing him to Jordan over and over. All he was ever asked in Cleveland was “when will you bring them a championship?” Not “hey how does it feel to help Cleveland get back in the playoff mix?” Over and over he kept getting grilled about the championship, and you could see it wear on him in the last two playoffs he had with Cleveland.

He seems happier in Miami, and they are far more competitive than Cleveland. They could win this series even without Bosh…they are only a shot of two off winning the last two games. It would be nice to see him catch a break, but I’m not sure I see it happening. Overall he seems like a good dude.

ATLJorge

June 6th, 2012
12:22 pm

@Mike,

And yet with all that lack of depth, they STILL held a “championship parade” to celebrate a free agent signing, and declared to the world that they’d win “not 1, not 2, not 3….” titles.

O'Brien

June 6th, 2012
12:25 pm

Dirk was criticized alot too (especially for being soft). And if I’m not mistaken, he has been eliminated in the first round 7 times. But he finally got the right HC (Rick Carlisle), and the right players around him, and they won.

Right now, I don’t think Miami has the right HC or the right role players.

GT

June 6th, 2012
12:26 pm

Wouldn’t it be a sad world if we could precook everything and have it ready to pop into the oven whenever we got hunger? Everything in this world tries to gravitate toward predictability and thank God it doesn’t meet the goal, especially sports which is suppose to be a contest not a macho movie where the latest superhero wins every time.

In politics we get the superpac which are steroids to that contest that try to muscle the questionable outcome from the voter into the hands of the wealthy lobbyist. In sports the money tries to freak the nature and make a predictable super team. Entertainment becomes more important than a good contest, the audience is cheated, the deck is stacked and yet still the fix is not in or not taking. The paid fighter refuses to fall and clear the way for the mob’s boy. It is what makes us keep coming back, it is some small taste of real justice and for five minutes truth has the upper hand.

O'Brien

June 6th, 2012
12:26 pm

Mark,

I know its not your area, but what do we need to do to keep the Hawks beat blog open?

Nicole

June 6th, 2012
12:29 pm

LeBron (or I call him LeBrick) is not a closer, and never will be!!! Even if the Heat beat out Boston in this series, they STILL have to answer to either the Spurs or Thunder (my team)!!! The Heat doesn’t have a chance!!! GO THUNDER!!!

doc

June 6th, 2012
12:31 pm

mark please, you say; “the difference between the Heat and the Celtics is that the latter side knows its can lose without recrimination”. no, so very wrong, they heaped it on themselves. first labron coming up with the titles of the chosen one, the decision and the king. then they went and became the three amigos who could vanquish all that go in their way for infinite numbers of titles. it isnt about who makes the winning shot but that they are arrogant, self absorbed and self appointed winners that have not won anything.

so, i dont feel for them at all. in fact let this do away with the notion it is all the advertising hype that came with it and the riches falsely heaped on them. let them earn it without feeling sorry for them at all, or anybody like them going forward. where is pittman to throw a cheap punch at pierce or haslem to try to take off kg’s head. they are all wimps when it comes to this idea of vanquishing the others, so far? it is great they have to earn it, isnt it, the old fashion way? let us hope that stern doesnt get in their way as he is the only one who can out tough the celts right now to give ti to the heat.

amazing, where were your boys last night instead of talking it up to the press sending out bosh? wimps! he set himself up for the fall mark, and all we have to do is watch. they dont lose as well as they win another sign they might have a hard time without help from stern and nike.

again, let them win first and fell nothing for them as they have created it. right now they are nothing more than the little wizzard behind the screen talking about the human condition trying to look big and the three amigos, the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man hoping someone is going to take them to kansas. i’ll take the spurs or thunder any day over the heat. i would have loved to see durant win against the heat but it would be second beat to see him take the crown in his hands before the queen as he is the real deal that when it matters. he steps up and wills his team to win. that is the integral difference in labron and the folks he compares himself to and you mark compared him to. the kobes or jordans were tough on the others but never became deteached during the process and that is exactly what labron does, detaches himself from others instead of leading them.