Deconstructing LeBron James seems to be the favorite past time of the American public in the wake of the 2011 Finals. Every fiber of James has been questioned — not only from his Decision in July but also on the court. James admitted his performance in the Finals — 17.8 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game, 6.8 assists per game, 52.8 percent effective field goal percentage — was far below his expectations.
James has some work to do to redeem himself — at least in his mind. IN the fans’ mind is another question, but James certainly hopes to learn from this experience and come out a better player.
The past nine years truly have been about the education of LeBron James. We have seen him blossom into a superstar in that time and perhaps the best player in the league. Yet, each postseason he seems to come up short when the lights were the brightest.
His 25 straight points to defeat the Pistons and help the Cavaliers reach the 2007 NBA Finals. That was the beginning of his coronation. Then Paul Pierce outdueled him in the 2008 second round. Despite a monumental and astounding 38.5 points per game, Dwight Howard and the Magic bested his Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. A second round matchup with the Celtics in 2010, left him with a sore elbow and questions for the first time in his career about his ability.
Teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was supposed to fix that. But here we are, feeling like James came up short. Just as his team did once again.
At this point, I think everyone recognizes how much talent James has. And everyone is trying to will him to the point where he dominates games like the greats — Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird — did. We want him to reach that level because we want to see greatness.
James has reached that level in the past, but has not gotten to the top of the mountain. And we cannot mention him in the same breath as those all-time greats until he wins a title. That is just how you are measured.
Despite our impatience, James is still learning what it takes to be a champion. And maybe we would have gotten there a little sooner had he gone to college. That is what Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News argued that before Game Six as the college analysts have begun to throw their opinions into the LeBron saga:
“Over the past decade or so, I’ve suggested a few times that even the most successful preps-to-pros prodigies—James, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant— might have been at least a little bit better as players had they been introduced to the game at the college level first. I found a kindred soul in ESPN analyst and former NBA power forward Len Elmore, who asserted those players had small deficiencies in their games that college might have helped to address.
“A common reaction from the agnostics: How could they be any better?
“You’re seeing now how James could be better — have seen it in the fourth quarter of five consecutive NBA Finals games. For the first time in his basketball career, James is facing genuine championship pressure, and he is reacting as though it is foreign to him.”
I doubt Kyle Singler ever had to play under this much scrutiny and expectation. But there is some point to this. A lot of people seem willing to place blame for James’ hubris on his naivete and the fact he is surrounded by yes-men unwilling to challenge him. I think it was Jim Rome who said James was never the same after Dwyane Wade got in his face during Game Five.
Maybe James would have learned to take constructive criticism playing for Thad Motta at Ohio State or Mike Krzyzeski at Duke.
Going to college would have definitely put James in a position of inferiority where he would have had to take that kind of criticism and learn to grow from it. Coach K would have definitely told him to develop a mid-range jumper to bust those zones the college players are allowed to play.
DeCourcy, as a college analyst, puts a lot of emphasis on the value of the NCAA Tournament. And maybe there is value in the one-and-done format. But it is not like James has never played in big games or with a chance to be eliminated. He turned in one of the most impressive performances I have ever seen in taking over and scoring 37 points while facing elimination in Game Five of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.
Whether James should have gotten this education in college or is going to be getting it as his career progresses, James has to recognize this Finals as an opportunity to improve the holes that DO exist in his game.
Like with Dirk Nowitzki, maybe we will look back at the 2011 Finals as an important growing step in the career of LeBron James.
Photos via DayLife.com.