With the Miami Heat having a, dare I say, "comfortable" 2-1 series lead and homecourt advantage in the 2011 NBA Finals, one would think the criticism of star forward, LeBron James, would surely die down at least a little. Right?
That's what one would think, but as we've come to see with James, the criticism surrounding him doesn't always make the most sense. ESPN's J.A. Adande couldn't have said it better – it's gotten to the point that James cannot win, even when his team wins on the court.
The "haters" of the Heat's prized star will always come up with ways to slight James, even times when there's really no reason to slight him at all. Is it fair? Of course not, but that's what James signed up for when he announced he was taking his talents to South Beach in order to join forces with his buddy Dwyane Wade as well as Chris Bosh.
Cleveland villanized their homegrown hero once he left. "The Decision" provided an easy way out for oh so many sports fans across the nation to begin hating the Akron native at unnecessary levels. No one likes it when someone or something has too much – which is how many feel about James and the Miami Heat.
The fuel for the hate of the Heat is in no short supply.
However, beneath all the hate and skewered views of James and this Heat team lies the cold, hard truth. The truth that a majority of the public never wants to admit is actually there, the truth that is so painful for James' haters to fairly acknowledge.
Just what is that truth?
The Miami Heat are a very, very good basketball team and it looks like they're here to stay for a while. And James? He just might be playing the best basketball of his career as he and Wade lead this Heat team on its quest to the franchise's second title (and perhaps several more).
This is where James' current fourth quarter criticism comes into light. In the three games thus far, the dominant forward has been unusually, well, not-dominant. Scoring wise, that is. His fourth quarter point total currently stands at just nine. That's it.
He's disappeared, he's scared of the big moment, he'll never be the player Jordan was and most of all he's just not playing that well. These remarks and more are just a few of the endless criticisms questioning James and his late game performances in these finals.
Have they already forgotten the Boston and Chicago series, when Wade struggled at times and James put the team on his back, leading them to victory? Remember when James drained Miami's final 10 points to seal the deal against the more experienced Boston Celtics?
Then again, perhaps that is part of the issue feeding the seemingly ridiculous criticisms of James in this Finals series – when you have a player with as much talent as James, you expect him to constantly dominate the scoresheet with ease each and every night. You expect him to hit big three's every night late in games. If he doesn't, it doesn't seem like he's done enough.
This logic is flawed for many reasons.
As a matter of fact, it's James' passive-scoring ways in late moments this series that can prove he's playing not only the best basketball of his still young career, but also the smartest basketball he's ever played. He's not shrinking, he's dazzling.
Wins Are All That Matter
It may sound like a cliche, but over this season with an unparalleled amount of scrutiny surrounding the Miami Heat, we have witnessed James mature and grow up before our eyes. There's no more excessive antics before games; even the infamous powder toss has been abandoned by the King.
James is all about business and winning more than ever. He's come to realize that playing alongside another great player like Wade requires serious a serious sacrifice. Surprising to many of his detractors, he's shown to be more than willing to make that sacrifice.
Whether it's taking less shots or at times taking on more of an offensive burden, James has always done whatever has been needed of him and more.
And with his second career chance at his first NBA championship in full-swing, James is again putting the team first, especially in late game situations. Instead of forcing shots and creating bad possessions for Miami when constantly drawing double teams, James has been fine with setting up his teammates for the best opportunities to score. More importantly, he's sitting back and letting Wade, the 2006 Finals MVP, do his thing.
Wade has been on absolute fire this Finals series, truly looking like vintage-Finals MVP of 2006 Wade. He's been virtually unstoppable, slicing and dicing through the Mavs defense on his way to incredible, but difficult points in the paint.
Credit James for seeing this and swallowing his pride for the good of the team, something many superstars in this league wouldn't be able to do.
On the other hand, it must also be acknowledged that although he hasn't been prolifically scoring, James is still having a priceless impact on the outcomes of the games. In game three he accounted for nine assists, including a beautiful pass to set up Bosh with the game-winning jumper from the corner.
If that's not being a team player, then what is?
A Class of His Own
Colin Cowherd made a great point on his show on Monday regarding James and his criticism. He explained that James is a hybrid player, which he truly is, and often times in life we aren't sure where to place hybrids. Why? Because they're different.
The game has never seen a player quite like LeBron James, that's the downright truth. With his athleticism, freakish size, basketball smarts and pure God-given talent, James has intangibles this league has never experienced.
He's a hybrid of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan for one reason and one reason only: he wants to be. He wants to be the most rounded basketball player he possibly can. There's no doubt that with his dominant capabilities James could go out and put up ridiculous scoring on any night he wants.
But he could also go out and run the point better than anyone in the league on any given night, as well has bring down an above-average amount of boards and on top of that play lockdown defense. Essentially, with all of his tools James could be the most complete basketball player ever. That's right, ever.
So far, at least.
And by being so unique, there are many who are still not able to appreciate James' greatness. In a scoring-oriented game, all people want to see is how much their favorite players can light up the scoreboard. So naturally, when James scores under 20 points and accounts for just two points in the final quarter, flocks of fans and critics will rush to call the star out for his "bad" perfomance.
Forget the nine assits, including the one to set up his teammate with an open look to win the game. Forget to mention his stellar defense in critical moments. If James isn't scoring, a lot of people aren't caring. Or actually, they are caring, but they aren't dying to praise his efforts. Rather, they are lining up to bring him down.
The Ugly Truth
It's sadly true, James will always deal with losing throughout the rest of the career, even though he may be doing nothing but winning. In the public's eye, at least.
Perhaps one day, whether it's at the twilight of James' career or after he retires, when "The Decision" is just a distant memory, basketball fans everywhere will be able to truly understand just how special James is. Maybe one day they will see James' selfless style of play for what it really is on the court. Perhaps one day basketball fans' eyes will be opened as to just how complete as a basketball player James truly is.
The question is, can hate blind forever?
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