This is a repost of a guest post from March 4th, written by friend of the blog Eddie Perez. Eddie was kind enough to provide an addendum to his article based on the events of the last few days. Eddie can be found at @eddieperez23 on Twitter.
This has been a fun week for the LeBron James detractors, as “LeBrick” and “LeFraud” tweets filled my timeline with the Heat losing 3 close games all ending on missed 3 point attempts by the “King” in the final seconds. This recent string of poor end game play has further fueled the perception that LeBron James is un-clutch, a choker, isn’t a “closer” (a popular, yet maddening term used by many basketball talking heads) and above all comes up small in the biggest situations. Couple the undeserved clutch reputation, with the ill-conceived off court “Decision” where he infamously took his talents to South Beach, and throw in the blame of playoff failures heaped solely on him and you have…Pre-2009 Alex Rodriguez.
While the impact an NBA superstar can have on a game is much greater then that of any position player in baseball, many of the terms used to describe LeBron were also previously used by people who disliked A-Rod, including many Yankee haters and even Yankee fans (i.e. the Jeter “zealots” and members of the Cody Ransom fan club). There is no question both James and A-Rod’s off-field actions (e.g. 2007 World series opt out, PED usage, aforementioned Decision, the silly “What should I do?” commercials) have turned fans to root against them and if you feel that way, that’s fine. I get it…most of us need a heel to root against, especially if our team isn’t playing, that’s part of what makes sports enjoyable. What I do have an issue with is when the dislike of a player completely warps the view of their performance. Think back to A-Rod:
- He was given the goat horns for the epic 2004 collapse, but if Mo closes Game 4 or Gordon doesn’t implode in Game 5, A-Rod probably wins the ALCS MVP
- As he struggled in the ’05 and ‘06 ALDS (a grand total of 9 games), A-Rod detractors and many Yankees fans began to dismiss his previous playoff statistics as a Mariner and even his great series versus the Twins in ’04 because he “wasn’t a Yankee” and because the “ALDS doesn’t matter because the Yankees are only about winning the World Series…blah blah blah”
- In 2007 despite having a historic MVP regular season and carrying the Yankees to the playoffs, his 4 for 17 postseason was the lead story for Yankees failures (instead of the two game C-M Wang meltdown)
- Even his manager fell prey to the madness dropping him to 8th in the lineup in a playoff game (Could you imagine Spoelstra or even Pat Riley making LeBron come off the bench in a deciding playoff game?)
All the walk-off homeruns, game-winning hits and MVP awards he had during those years were minimized, because “A-Fraud couldn’t get it done when it mattered most.” Never mind that the Yankees starting pitching was the main culprit in those playoff series losses, it was ALL A-ROD’s FAULT. Heck even players from other teams would chime in and take shots at A-Rod as did Torre in his book. Thankfully 2009 happened, silencing most of the critics.
LeBron finds himself today, where A-Rod was 2 years ago. A HOF player, who is hated and disliked by most fans/media, resulting in a skewed analysis of his play. Under this pretense, Regular season MVP awards are trivialized. Stellar post-season performance is conveniently forgotten (Regular season: 27.7ppg-7.1rpg-7.0apg, Postseason: 29.3ppg-8.4rpg-7.3apg). “Clutch” shots and “closing out” games (LeBron has made four game-winning shots in the playoffs and rates well statistically inclutch situations as of 2009) are swept under the rug. The fact that until this season, his supporting cast has been mediocre to poor (see the Cavs this season without him), will also be nothing more then a mere footnote for the LeBrick backers. The perception won’t change until LeBron wins a ring. Until then he’ll have to hear about how he doesn’t have the clutch gene (Ian O’Connor’d: Yes Jeter was born with this gene and A-Rod wasn’t) and how he’s afraid to take and make big shots. A-Rod finally broke through and LeBron will one day as well. On that night I hope LeBron hooks up with A-Rodonce again, this time to get wasted on championship champagne. That is one scene I want the A-Fraud/LeFraud supporters to all be witnesses too.
It is Christmas in June for the LeBust supporters as the Mavericks eliminated LeBron and the Heat last night. James, after playing the lead role in series wins over the Celtics and Bulls, struggled mightily in the Finals, looking passive and timid for long stretches. LeBron’s Game 4 vanishing act (9 points, 9 Reb, 7 Assists) was inexplicable and though he played pretty well in Games 5 + 6, the Mavericks unconscious shooting from 3 was too much to overcome. Dirk was great, Jason Terry otherworldly, and the Mavs won the championship. But in the “Year of LeBron,” the headline for 2011 will be LeBron choked and that he wasn’t clutch (Chicago and Boston series be damned).
Similar to LBJ, it was also in a Game 4 (2006 ALDS) that ARod’s playoff legacy in the eyes of most media and fans hit rock bottom. As noted above, it was in that game that Joe Torre dropped ARod to 8th in the order on the heels of a 1 for 11 start for that series and combined 5 for 43 with 1 HR going back to Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. It took ARod a couple more years, but eventually his greatness in the postseason reappeared in 2009 and the rest, as we all know, is history. The booing at Yankee Stadium after a 3rd inning pop up in a regular season game ceased. Talk about his ability to hit in the “clutch” was no longer questioned. Look at ARod’s numbers and his regular season stat line (.302/.570/.956) is fairly similar to his post-season line (.290/.528/.925). It was just a matter of time before he delivered.
James has his playoff demons to vanquish, but it isn’t because he isn’t clutch. In the past he carried the Cavs to several last second dramatic wins and will do so for the Heat. Remember 5 years ago Dirk was being called an un-clutch, soft player after flame outs to the Heat in the Finals and then being upset in a #1 vs #8 series vs Golden State. ARod heard all the same noise after 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. He became the symbol of Yankee failures while everyone else got a pass. James is 26 years old, with likely 6 to 8 years of prime basketball left. During this time, he’ll be crushed nationally like ARod until he’s able to win it all. Fortunately for LBJ, in the NBA, great players have far more control over the outcome of the game. So while the championship champagne with ARod will have to be put on ice for at least one more season, expect the King and his Evil Empire of South Beach to Strike Back in 2012.
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