LeBron James brought this on himself.
The ridicule, the scorn, the unabashed delight seemingly everyone outside of South Beach is taking in his failure to win the NBA title — it’s all on him.
When you make a spectacle of yourself and give the impression you’re above everyone else, as James did with his shockingly tone-deaf “Decision,” you have to back it up. Not only did James not live up to the hype he predicted, his ineffectiveness when it mattered most showed that his supporting cast in Cleveland might not have been the real problem.
There is no question James is a spectacular talent, a once-in-a-generation player who can do things that defy both the imagination and the laws of physics. His back-to-back MVP awards in 2009 and 2010 were well-deserved, and with 17,362 points in his first eight seasons, he likely will be among the NBA’s all-time leading scorers by the time his career ends.
Statistics have little weight without a championship to back them up, though, and James is now 0-for-2 in the NBA finals.
Accused of quitting in last year’s playoffs with Cleveland, James responded with a ferocity this year, dragging the Miami Heat through the early rounds. He’d become a national pariah after abandoning his beleaguered hometown in humiliating fashion, and he played like a man who knew the only way to salvage his reputation was with a title.
But when the games were on the line against the Dallas Mavericks, James disappeared. He managed just 18 points in the fourth quarter of the six-game series, and his silence was a major factor in why the Mavericks were able to rally again and again.
In the cardinal sin of sports, he didn’t seem to want it nearly as badly as Dirk Nowitzki, who played with a torn tendon in his finger and a 101-degree fever. Or Jason Kidd, who showed no regard for his 38-year-old body as he repeatedly dived for loose balls. Or even James’ own teammate, Dwyane Wade, who scored a team-high 23 in Game 5 despite a bruised hip so painful it had him in the locker room twice for treatment.
“Sometimes you got it, sometimes you don’t,” James said. “And that was this case in this series. I was able to do things in the last two series to help us win ballgames. Wasn’t able to do that in this series.”
Lesser talents can get away with saying that — not that they ever would. But James made the move to Miami for the sole purpose of winning NBA titles, and that dismissive arrogance is exactly why fans rooted so hard against him and his buddies.
Watching James go home empty-handed made millions of fans in and outside of Cleveland feel better. But it won’t dim the spotlight on James and his sidekicks, or lessen the pressure.
If anything, the scrutiny only will get worse, as people start asking not when James will win a championship, but whether he can.