He made his own burning bed, creating uncommon heat when he Decided to create the uncommon Heat. That’s what LeBron James gets now, that he chose this, which is just the soothing rationalization that allows his loudest critics to excuse all the stupidity in their sliding-scale standards. His regular-season successes? That’s not proof of anything. But his regular-season failures? That’s evidence he is a coward and choker.
Let us review what happened Friday night, when the Heat lost to the Jazz, because I’ve never seen anything like it in two decades covering sports.
James was 16 of 24. He had 35 points, 17 of them in the fourth quarter, to rally his team from an 18-point deficit. He also had 10 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and zero turnovers. The overwhelming majority of players who have ever tried to play this sport will never have that stat line even once in their career. And this was, ho hum, the second night in a row James was having it. At game’s end, he made a beautiful pass to teammate Udonis Haslem, who was wide open because the defense had shifted toward James. Haslem missed, of course, and Miami lost by a point.
While James was doing all this, Dwyane Wade was doing the following in the last three minutes: Missed jumper in a tie game. Dumb foul in a tie game to give Devin Harris three free throws. Missed runner down by two points. Missed free throw with 14 seconds left that would have put the Heat up three, his first and only missed free throw in 11 attempts. Allowed tying basket in his face with four seconds left and fouled the shooter to give Utah the lead.
The story afterward?
James neglecting to take the final shot.
None of the 17 points he scored in the fourth quarter mattered like the two he didn’t score on a shot he didn’t even take. Wheeeeeeee!
You’d understand the questions and criticisms if James was having the game Wade was having while Wade was having the game James was having. But James finds himself in the unusual place where Wade can do nothing wrong, even when he does, and James can do nothing right, even when he does. It is a testament to the strength of their friendship that this doesn’t create resentments. But James chose this? Who would chose this? How could he have any idea it would be like this? Where it is always your fault, even when it clearly isn’t?
Wade and Chris Bosh chose it, too, and they don’t have to deal with this kind of perpetual and unrelenting nonsense. This is where James resides until he is a champion, in a place where a historic nine-game winning streak of double-digit victories somehow means nothing but passing up a shot at an end of an All-Star Game somehow means something. Read that again. Regular-season games? They don’t matter. Exhibition games? They matter. And he better not complain about it, either, or “whiner” will join “coward” and “choker.” It probably ought to be noted that, once upon a time, a very loud group of doubters once said ball-hog Michael Jordan would never win playing his way, either.
The starting place on some of this makes sense. James vanished in last year’s Finals in a way that doesn’t have precedent for a player of his caliber in this sport. It doesn’t have a good explanation, either. In the absence of an explanation, humans create religions and scientists test theories; in sports, a combination of religion and science, the fanatics assign character-smearing intangibles. That part of his burning bed James did make.
Those Finals created echoing questions that don’t trail Wade, and won’t ever, because we’ve seen Wade do it when it mattered once. Once you’ve done it once in sport, you are golden forever.