Choke no more: LeBron James haters need a new angle
NBA Finals players LeBron James and Kevin Duran (AFP)
With LeBron James one win away from an NBA title – a championship he may have even won by the time you read this article – his detractors will need to find something new to criticise him for.
Rest assured, there are plenty of journalists and fans that are now nervously realising that they’ll need to find a new angle to beat James down with, other than the tired, lazy and inaccurate ‘choker’ tag.
James is on the verge of joining Lionel Messi, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Sachin Tendulkar, etc, at the table of pure greatness.
It’s a status that James has always been pegged as having the potential to attain, but until now, has fallen short.
The key word in the previous paragraph is potential. It’s probably the one word most athletes hate hearing when it’s associated with them.
For if they’re still talking about your potential, it means you haven’t reached it. And no one wants to leave people thinking ‘they could have achieved more’.
Yet James is about to leave the dreaded ‘p’ word in his considerable wake.
It’s often said that perception overrules reality, and never has a statement been more relevant or apt than when discussing LeBron James.
The perception of James, and the major knock, has been that he’s a choker. Can’t close. Lacks the ability to finish games. In fact, it’s the only legitimate criticism of James, as he’s otherwise the perfect basketballer.
Perceptions don’t just come from nowhere. There is always an element of truth to them. That’s how these things start.
As such, James reputation for being a choker has some merit, but based almost exclusively upon a poor performance versus against Boston in 2009, during his last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and his sub-par series against Dallas last year.
Two series? That’s it?
Every single great player has had a bad series or two. And every player is allowed to have a bad series or two. So far, LeBron has had two really bad series. Yet somehow the choker label has stuck.
It’s absolutely ridiculous. All the greatest players have some blips on their career when it comes to performing in the clutch.
In the 1984 NBA Finals, Magic Johnson played so badly that he was re-nicknamed Tragic Johnson, and his Lakers mockingly called the Fakers.
Larry Bird shot an extremely poor 38% in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, as his heavily favoured Boston Celtics didn’t even make the Finals. And in game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals, Bird missed a wide open three pointer on the buzzer that would have won the game.
For years, Michael Jordan’s teams struggled to get past the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Whilst he wasn’t necessarily considered a choker in the traditional sense, the perception grew that Jordan couldn’t win a championship with his style of play.
Amongst James’ contemporaries, Kobe Bryant is considered the most clutch performer. Yet, as a Lakers fan, it hurts to say, but Kobe is the most over-rated clutch performer since Reggie Miller. Yes, Kobe has hit a lot of game winners, but he’s also missed a lot.
And rest assured, if LeBron James pulled out a 6-24 shooting performance in game 7 of the NBA Finals, it wouldn’t be as easily forgotten as Kobe’s 2010 performance.
In all four cases, there is a very simple reason why those legends weren’t permanently labelled a choker. Because they won a championship. And they didn’t just win one, but multiple: Bird 3, Kobe and Magic 5, and Jordan 6.
Yet LeBron, due to his lack of championship success, has been judged by the most ridiculous, stupid, and unfair assessment a basketballer has even been held to.
The fact is that LeBron was never a choker. He’s a solid crunch time performer, with far too many impressive performances on his resume to ever be saddled with the dreaded tag.
The 48 special versus Detroit in 2007. The clutch game-winning three versus the Magic in 2009. The evisceration of the Celtics and Bulls in the 2011 Playoffs. The 45/15/5 in the do-or-die game 6 match against Boston a few weeks ago week.
And now comes the final nail in the argument that James is a choker: an NBA championship, courtesy of a magnificent Finals series on basketball’s biggest stage.
So what will his detractors accuse him of now? Arrogance? This has been the other criticism of James, and it’s just ridiculous. Magic, Bird, Jordan and Kobe were all just as cocky, if not worse, than LeBron.
Even if you still think LeBron is a choker and you think he’s arrogant, I find it hard to fathom how any proper basketball fan could fail to appreciate LeBron the player.
This is a one in a generation player we’re talking about. And what’s to hate about his game? He does absolutely everything possible on a basketball court, and does it at an elite level.
Dislike him as a person, if you must. But disliking him as a player only says to me that you either aren’t a basketball fan, or don’t appreciate basketball.
LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, and as close to the perfect basketballer as any player has ever come.
And he’s about to win an NBA championship, ensuring his legacy as an all-time great.
It also leaves his detractors with nothing rational to criticise him over.
Instead, they’ll simply have to enjoy the coronation of the King.
Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.
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