For the past 24 hours I have listened to every ex-basketball player and sports expert try to explain why the world’s greatest roundballer became a complete liability to his team in a matter of days. Of course I’m talking about the Miami Heat’s LeBron James, the man who singlehandedly beat Boston and made Chicago’s Derrick Rose (league MVP) look like Axl Rose in these same 2011 playoffs. Then came his head-scratching evaporation in the NBA Finals. If you don’t follow basketball, that’s all right, I believe you’ll still find the following account an incredible story about a global athlete crumbling to dust on the major stage, and why.
About a year ago LeBron James left his first professional team, the Cleveland Cavaliers to ‘take (his) talents to South Beach’ and join forces with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to play for the Miami Heat. The ESPN show on which he announced this was dubbed ‘The Decision’ and was met with much criticism by people in all basketball circles. A few days later he took part in a cheesy 3-ring circus with new teammates Wade and Bosh, declaring the Heat would win not one, or, two, or three, or four, but countless championships. That cheese fest was met with even more hate. For the first time in his 7-yr. career, LeBron was cast as the NBA’s villain, and when the NBA season began, the boo birds were out all over America, myself included.
The Heat made it through the NBA season then smoked through the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoff bracket. LeBron James was the world’s best player and everyone finally recognized it, myself included. Former Michael Jordan teammate, Scottie Pippen, even said James might be better than Jordan. Everything was looking up for Miami as they entered the NBA Finals, favored to beat the Western winning Dallas Mavericks, and shut the world up with a ring in year one of the ‘Big Three’ experiment. The Heat easily won the first game of the series in Miami. They lost the second game because Dallas executed a miracle come-from-behind win, then Miami took control of the series with a game 3 win. LeBron and D-Wade were both dominate, Miami was clearly the better team, and it seemed only a matter of time before the Heat would rule the basketball world. Then something happened.
LeBron James, the greatest basketball player in the world, simply stopped playing. Two wins away from achieving his lifelong dream of an NBA Championship, two wins away from proving the world wrong, two wins away from winning back fans by the basketload, LeBron James just stopped playing. Period. He did not choke on the big stage, or go cold from the field, or get marred by foul trouble, he just stopped being LeBron James. Out of nowhere, he just stopped. His numbers plummeted. His drives to the hoop stopped. His aggression and excitement disappeared. Poof. This may not sound like a big deal but when a guy like LeBron, who could drop 30 points in a blindfold, can’t score more than 2.2 pts in the 4th Qtr on an aging defense, it is too bizarre to believe. Many fans and experts alike believe that LeBron just shriveled in a big spot, he just got scared to fail, he just lost his mojo. I say it’s something more than that.
I don't mean to go all GODFATHER on you, but I truly believe some kind of organized crime operation, interested in sports gambling, got a hold of LeBron James at some point in these NBA Finals, made him fix this series and/or throw it away. In my mind there is really no other obvious explanation for a god-like athlete so close to his goal, after a season of vilification, to commit legacy suicide two wins away from history, with his team in complete control of a series against a lesser opponent. You’re probably saying, ‘Come on, Brian, that’s insane, that can’t happen.’ That doesn't happen anymore. This isn't the Chicago White Sox or that bad movie BLUE CHIPS starring Shaq and Nick Nolte. Really? Why not? A few years ago an NBA referee named Tim Donaghy, for whatever reason, began rigging games he officiated for betting purposes. Why? For who? He won't say, he won't name names. We know how that goes, we've seen the SOPRANOS. He served prison time for not talking.
How about Michael Jordan’s dad? He was murdered at the side of a road in July 1993. And Jordan was a notoriously-big gambler, huge, massive gambler. That same time Jordan left the NBA for a year, and many believe the mob was behind that murder, and was driving Jordan’s career for a short time, when Jordan’s economic impact was 10 billion dollars, wherever he went. I don't know why MJ left bball to play minor-league baseball in the prime of his career, but I know he made 'somebody' a lot of money in doing it. So why can’t the mob have gotten to LeBron James and made him throw the NBA Finals with threats against his family or something like that? If you're gonna go after anyone to singlehandedly throw a series, LeBron would be the A-1 choice. He's that good. Plus he has a rep. for being weak in huge spots, so everyone would just dismiss it as LeBron being scared or weak. You might think a man worth 400million couldn't be bought. Maybe he could be motivated on another level. Haven't you people seen CASINO? And you might say, 'Why now, Brian?' Why not now? The NBA is facing a potential work stoppage. So there's no better time than now.
From Game 3 forward, LeBron stopped smiling, dealt with the press like a robot, and operated on the court like a corpse. When Game 6 ended Sunday night, and Miami lost, LeBron walked off, emotionless, relieved, like he was happy the playoffs were finally over. Anybody who knows sports knows that a global star of LeBron’s level doesn’t just stop being good for no reason in a matter of days, and in fact, become bad, real bad. Turnovers, missed lay-ups, bricked jumpers, dumb, blatant fouls, etc, etc. Why? Watch clips of the finals. It’s painfully obvious that LeBron wanted no part of those last 3 games. The ball was a hot potato to him. Why? When he was so close to a championship. It makes no sense, and every NBA analyst has said the same thing. It just makes no sense, whatever LBJ’s character or lack thereof is, zero sense to people who have breathed basketball for 20, 30, 50 years. To add some salt to my theory, many of my friends were texting me during Game 6, saying that it looked like LeBron had a bruise on his face, around his eyes. Go figure.
I am not a LeBron fan. I’m a Kobe guy through and through, so I’m not making excuses for the 'King.' I think Kobe is going to have a HUGE year next year, and I think we could have a Heat vs. Lakers Finals, a passing of the torch perhaps, circa Bulls vs. Lakers '91 (Oh, what a move by Michael Jordan). But you have to say that LeBron is the best bball talent in the world today, ring or no ring, right? And obviously every 'crazy' thing I say here is just a theory, with no hard evidence as support, except eyes and instinct, and I hope I'm wrong, because it would stink if it ends up I'm right, as a sports fan, it would stink. And if something did happen off the court that caused LeBron to lose interest in this series, I am sorry about that and feel bad for him. I dislike his style and think he needs to grow up quite a bit, but he was a manchild this entire season, then, with the whole enchilada right in front of him for the taking, poof, he shriveled away like a losing lottery ticket. Or maybe it was a winning ticket, meant to look like a loser.
LeBron tweet after losing NBA Finals: "The Greater Man upstairs know when it's my time. Right now isn't the time."
More Donaghy: http://www.clubblazers.com/nba-discussion/tim-donaghy-gets-knee-busted-rumored-the-mob-t2085.html
More LeBron: http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoopmiamiheat/post/_/id/8869/another-season-without-acquittal-for-lebron