Essay: LeBron James And The Fear Of Failure
Editor’s Note: This essay is written by my friend and your special guest, Aaron Kaplan. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @Balls_Jericho if his work unwillingly forces you to stand and applaud. Enjoy!
The first five years of LeBron James’ career were amazing. He held the world captive every time his Nikes touched the parquet, and took our breath away every time they blasted off for a dunk. He’s a freak! He’s like one of the Monstars from Space Jam! As a 22-year-old, his performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit will be remembered forever as one of the most dominant performances in playoff history. Yet James is not known as a great closer, like Kobe. Neither is he known for hitting game winning jumpers under pressure like Paul Pierce. Instead of stepping up and embracing the demands that his talent and personality call for, he avoids it altogether. The entire city of Cleveland and all 65 fans of the Miami Heat are forced to pose the question: Why??
It’s a classic psychological defense mechanism: When LeBron is put in a difficult situation, one where the game can be won or lost as a result of his decision, he chooses a lower percentage play. This serves as a crutch for his insecurity, his fear of failing his team, his fans, and most of all, his own expectations for himself. If he misses a contested three, it’s understandable, but two free throws with the game on the line? That would be too embarrassing; best to evade the situation altogether. Throughout the 2010-2011 season, our hatable monarch has had many opportunities to win the game at the buzzer, and the overwhelming trend has been LeBron shooting contested threes when a lay-up wins or ties the game. LeBron is playing great this season, shooting over 50% from the field, but his three-point shooting remains steady at around 33%. His shooting percentage in crunch time from close range is over 60%, whereas he shoots jumpers at just over 35% when it matters most. Simply put: if the Heat are down by either one or two, James should drive to the hoop every time, especially when he is now an 88% FT shooter in crunch time.
LeBron’s mixture of size and athleticism give him the ability to power his way to the basket better than anyone in the league. He can do it whenever he wants. At the end of a game, however, it’s like asking Snooki to make you lasagna: She should be able to but it’s not going to happen. He doesn’t because he is scared. Scared of the media, scared of the fans from whom he craves affection, and scared of do-or-die foul shots. It’s not like he can’t do it. LeBron had impressive game winning driving layups in Games 3 and 5 of the 2006 playoffs against Washington. In late February of this year, after a string of missed threes at the end of games, he attempted to drive against the Knicks but was muscled out of the lane by Carmelo, and as a result had his shot blocked by Amar’e Stoudemire. Not OK. Not good enough. He needs to take it strong to the iron and at least get fouled.
From his over the top parties to his Escalade clown car full of idiot friends, LeBron’s life is one big gift-wrapped excuse. Like when a young kid gets into trouble, “boys will be boys” only works so many times, and it’s come to a point where James has to grow up and face the responsibility that he has shirked throughout his whole career.
“I’m not worried about [the series]“, LeBron said after a ruthless 32-point Game 5 shellacking dealt by the Celtics in last year’s playoffs. Not worried?? I would be, especially if I were the face of a franchise that was circling the drain faster than Charlie Sheen’s career. There was definitely something going on behind the scenes during that series (see Delonte West, Gloria James), but no outside distraction should stop a true professional from doing his job: winning. (See Kobe, shameless adultery.)
James’ failures remind me of Bode Miller at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Miller was supposed to win gold in multiple events but partied the whole time and did not medal in any.
“I wanted to have fun [at the Olympics],” Miller said after his gross disappointments in Turin.”I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked”. Yeah…so what this adds up to is two wannabe rock stars failing miserably with ready made excuses in their holsters, blaming any circumstance but their own bad performance and lack of effort. The “yeah but I wasn’t even trying” excuse didn’t work in fourth grade and it certainly does not at the professional level, and Cleveland fans deserved better than what they got. As far as the Miami chapter is concerned, it’s hard to disappoint fans who don’t give a shit, but don’t underestimate LeBron, who recently purchased a minority share in soccer club Liverpool—owned by the Fenway Sports Group. “The first time I stepped on an NBA court I became a businessman,” asserts James. Skip Bayless puts it best: “So many business interests can’t help basketball focus. Is winning REALLY [a] priority?” Clearly it isn’t. And didn’t the Monstars lose at the end of Space Jam?