Saturday, May 26, 2007

His Airness, the King is not

With the Cavs down 0-2 to the mighty Detroit Pistons, LeBron James has faced harsh criticism after a less-than-stellar finish in games 1 and 2. After Game 1, he got ripped for passing the ball to a wide-open teammate who had a chance to drain a game-winning three. After hearing about how he should have been the one to take the final shot, he did. Game 2 finished with LeBron driving the lane, drawing a decent amount of contact (but supposedly not enough for a foul call, which I don't have a problem with), and putting up a shot that just missed.

Both games ended with LeBron driving and deciding. That's all that really matters in my mind. Is he the one making these decisions? Is the team's superstar the one with the ball in his hands to start the final play? He doesn't always have to shoot. He can pass if that's the best option.

Everyone knows Michael Jordan drained that big shot against the Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals to win it all. We always see the replays of MJ's shot over Elo to beat the Cavs in 1991. But don't think that Jordan took every single buzzer-beating shot attempt for the Bulls from the time he entered the Association until 1998. Think back to 1993 when Jordan's backcourt mate John Paxson nailed a three-pointer with just seconds left and the Bulls down by two. Paxson was the hero at the buzzer, not Jordan.

Yes, Michael Jordan was the Finals MVP and the main reason that the Bulls got as far as they did, but he didn't do it entirely alone.

And please don't misinterpret this and think I don't believe MJ was great. He defined greatness in the NBA and set a standard the likes of which might never be equalled. If anyone's silhouette will ever replace Jerry West in the NBA's logo, it could only be Jordan. He's that big to the game even now after having retired years ago.

All I'm saying is that the critics of LeBron James shouldn't get on his case for his decisions themselves at the ends of games 1 and 2. The critics really only need to focus on the fact that he isn't winning. He's putting the Cavs in position to win. He should have made that shot regardless of the contact at the end of Game 2. But it's not entirely on him. James's teammates had chances to win games 1 and 2 also. But it's not on them. It's on LeBron.

The most important thing, regardless of if the team's go-to guy passes or pulls up, is that the shot goes in and team wins. If not, that team leader needs to be ready to face the fact that they didn't win. It's on LeBron's shoulders for the Cavs to win, even if he isn't taking the final shot.

Think about Robert Horry's legacy (independent of his foul on Nash at the end of the Suns series, which no one will remember two years from now). He was just one of the key cogs in the machines that won NBA titles over the last decade. He was a Paxson for the Rockets and Lakers and now Spurs.

LeBron needs to find his Robert Horry. He needs to find his John Paxson. More importantly than any given teammate, he needs to find comfort in making a decision to differ to those around him or take the final shot himself.

Win and you're a hero. Lose and you're a goat, no matter what your decision is. All LeBron can do right now is continue to play, continue to keep his team in contention until the final minute, and - if he's really interested in getting fans and critics off his back - find a way to win a game.

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