In their usual attempt to stir up some trouble, ESPN went out and asked 26 NBA players about LeBron James, promising them anonymity. One of the conclusions from the very small sampled survey was this particular group not feeling too confident about his ability to perform in clutch situations, and especially with the last ball in his hands and the game on the line.
Who did they prefer? Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, although those were the options put in front of them. In the endless comparison between James, Bryant and Jordan, LeBron loses out to Jordan because he probably won’t get to his championship numbers, while the exaggerated perception of Kobe Bryant being the definition of clutch shooting keeps showing up in discussions about Bryant and James.
James, unlike the other two, doesn’t always thinks about shooting the ball when the game is on the line. He does what he thinks is best for his team. Sometimes it’s trying to find Udonis Haslem for the final shot (which has backfired), and sometimes it’s trying to win the game on his own. He’s had quite a few game winning shots in his career, including the final two points in the win over the Indiana Pacers (Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1) or his huge shot against the Spurs in game 7.
And clutch, for the millionth time, isn’t just that final shot. Being great in the third and fourth quarters and putting your team in a situation it can win is just as important. Being so good your team doesn’t face too many tight situations is just as important, even if there are better players out there at burying the final shot of the game. While Michael Jordan, statistically or not, is the undisputed king of game winning shots, Kobe Bryant is well below a lot of other players on this list. Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki come to mind as players who would probably do a better job than Bryant, who doesn’t tend to really think in close situation, instead just shooting the ball no matter the defense in front of him.
James doesn’t need to keep on proving things as he enters his 11th NBA season, not to those clutching to straws when they try to eliminate his inclusion in the ‘really great’ players club. He’s a two time NBA champion, with two NBA Finals MVP. Yes, he needed a big shot from Ray Allen in game 6 to save the series, but Steve Kerr won a championship for Jordan, and Pau Gasol did more than enough for Bryant over the years.
No NBA champion or MVP, especially in this day and age of the league, can win titles on his own, or avoid having to rely on teammates and role players picking up the slack and fixing some of the mistakes he’s made. LeBron James is human, and no different. The impossible expectations he’s managed to live up to keep getting thrown in his face by people who simply don’t want to see their image of him as a quitter or choker disappear. The media? They thrive on debate, so any small sign of imperfection is an excellent reason to stir things up again.
But while James has only himself to answer to know, matching his own expectations and dreams about NBA championships and all-time greatness, the point of his “clutchness” being an issue is buried deep in the past, and shouldn’t be brought back up again, ever.