Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tears for Lebron

There’s really nothing about this game that needs to be said. The Spurs won tonight just as the won game three, just as they’ve won most other games. I do think, however, there are a number of interesting stories that came out of these finals, and the first one was just made evident from Lebron James’ last press conference as a 2007 NBA Finalist. People have been saying for months how much pressure is on Lebron’s shoulders. He has to carry his team offensively, put up with intense scrutiny, and, according to some, save the floundering NBA. Well this past week he did none of these, and he is taking a lot of flak.

I am the last person who wants to make excuses for James. The type of criticism levied at him by Rick Barry is all accurate. He doesn’t have a reliable jumper, he has trouble moving without the ball, he has zero skills in the post (unheard of for a 6’8 guy), and he often makes bad decisions in crunch time. People have given him a free pass for four years, and have done him a serious disservice, there are clearly elements of his game that needs improving, and he needs to improve them under intense scrutiny. Which brings me to the depressing post-game press conference I just witnessed. I don’t have a transcript, but here are a few points about Lebron James in interviews. He is very charming, but he is also very polished. You can tell that years of molding have taught this young man exactly what to say and how to say it. The result? Lebron usually does not convey much emotion other than the arrogance expected from a young superstar. Tonight it was different. Lebron’s mouth was smiling but his eyes told a different story. James looked disturbed. Disturbed by the fact that, frankly, he did not do the types of things he expected himself to do. Disturbed because he knows that millions of people expect him to develop a jumper and a post game by October. Disturbed because he had the hopes of an entire city on his back and he faltered.

Now lets be fair, Lebron’s play had as much to do with San Antonio and Bruce Bowen as it did with Lebron’s flaws. But that’s not the way James saw it. Every question shot at him led to a downcast facial expression and an answer that basically said “I need to do better.” When asked whether he needed a better team around him, he basically responded by saying that the team’s progress will begin and end with him. This is true, of course, but maybe all of this is too much for him right now. Because looking at Lebron tonight I saw not a man-child, but just a child, a child who has a lot of questions and not so many answers. James looked worried, he looked worried that he might not have enough to make the necessary changes to his game. Not enough to make it back to this stage, and not enough to leave the Finals’ as a winner.

And I feel for him.

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