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|LeBron James, left, and Michael Jordan holding the Larry O'Brien trophy. But even pictures worth a thousand words don't tell the whole story.|
All because, in Games 2 through 5 of the Finals, LeBron finally did what I've been publicly begging him do for years -- attack the basket. All because, starting with Game 2, LeBron was guarded by Kevin Durant, his best buddy and offseason workout partner, and fell into a comfort zone against a beanpole of a defender who has far too much respect for LeBron to do what the Mavericks did in the previous Finals -- get under his skin and in his head with "you ain't bleep" trash talk. All because LeBron finally cut back on what he does worst -- shoot jump shots -- and began driving and dunking or dishing to preposterously hot teammates. Shane Battier, who made 62 3-pointers in 65 regular-season games, hit five 3s in Game 2! Dwyane Wade, fighting a bad knee and a worse custody battle, scored 25 in Game 3 as the Miami stage proved too big for the self-destructing young Thunder! Mario Chalmers -- MARIO CHALMERS -- scored 25 in Game 4, including 12 in the fourth quarter! And 6-foot-8 Mike Miller, who measured 5-8 because he was so hunched over with back pain, hit 7 of 8 3s in the closeout Game 5! LeBron's planets finally aligned. Yet now, because of one well-deserved Finals MVP and one ring, everything that happened (and didn't happen) before has been erased from the collective memory? Mind-blowing. Just because LeBron finally gave up in Cleveland and joined forces with a top-5 player (D-Wade) and top-20 player (Chris Bosh) and won one championship in two Miami tries, he's making us forget the Michael Jordan who went 6-for-6 in NBA Finals with six MVPs? Dumbfounding. Stephen A. Smith, my "First Take" debate partner, went overnight from LeBron's harshest critic to his most vehement defender. He now tells me I sound "foolish" for daring to discount LeBron's first ring or to doubt his transformation into a clutch force who will pick right up where he left off. Stephen A. now wonders whether I bear some personal grudge against LeBron. No! I think LeBron is a nice guy who has a standing invitation to join us on our show and discuss any and all issues he has with me. I've been told several times in the past five years that he has wanted to but that his advisers didn't think it was good idea. LeBron, in fact, has said several times in interviews that he is entertained and motivated by my criticism and has called me his "Howard Cosell," referring to the fearlessly critical broadcaster whose lovingly tough interviews with Muhammad Ali were sometimes better than The Greatest's fights. Honored, LeBron. But believe me, I am not being a contrarian for debate's or ratings' sake. I'm simply baffled by the nine-year compulsion to deify LeBron James no matter his obvious flaws. Is it BECAUSE he's such a nice guy? Or because -- as some of my "First Take" debate opponents have said -- I've helped turn him into a sympathetic figure? Or is it far deeper? Is it because the early Nike commercials brainwashed millions into thinking he truly is the "Chosen 1," as is tattooed across his upper back? Or because so many proclaimed him Next when he hit the NBA out of high school and they've waited through so many humiliating collapses to say, "SEE! I told you so"? Or because his blindingly obvious skills and all-time greatest ability to dominate a box score with sometimes misleading stats have always allowed his idolaters, even in his lowest moments, to say, "Yes, but "? Out here in the cold dark, I still say no. Please hear me out.
|The uniform number. The pregame ritual with chalk powder. LeBron James certainly did not shy away from comparisons to Michael Jordan.|
|LeBron James' end-of-game problems start with his career free throw percentage of 75.|
NOW are you ready? Still Prince James to me. The Celtics won the next three and the series. LeBron routinely disappeared in fourth quarters but hit bottom in Game 5 in Cleveland. He appeared to play in a trance. This was the Next Jordan? His confidants advised key media voices that LeBron was so upset over a personal issue with a teammate that he had to be sedated before the game. Maybe so, but I insisted on air that we were simply seeing how debilitating late-game pressure can be for King James. Right before the world's blind eyes, the Chosen One was turning into the Frozen One.
|Dwyane Wade and LeBron James celebrate the Miami Heat's NBA title win this past June.|