LeBron James is the best basketball player on earth. That much is certain. With their backs against the wall, LeBron and Dwyane Wade responded by unleashing hell on the helpless, and when it was all over the Pacers had a convincing alibi for the Game 4 loss -- nobody can beat that guy.
But so many people can miss the point after a game like that. We're talking about two groups here. First, the people who scream he's never won a ring, so he can't be the best player in the NBA and Game 4 means nothing.
Then you have the people who point to games like Sunday's and say that his critics are all so blinded by anti-Heat bias that we can't appreciate the greatest player of this generation. For instance, after the game Sunday, I was checking Twitter and saw a lot of sportswriters reacting like this:
So what LeBron did in Game 4 doesn't matter because "he's never won a ring" right? What a crock. The guy is on a different level— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) May 20, 2012
Okay but THAT'S THE POINT.
We know he's capable of uncorking a playoff line of 40, 18, and nine because he's done it before. Against Orlando in 2009 (37-14-12 in Game 6) and against Chicago in 2011 (35-6-6 and shutting down Rose in Game 4), to name two occasions. After that Bulls game I wrote, "He can shut down anyone in the league, and on offense, he just went for 35 points against the best defense in the league. He can stop anyone, and on the other end, nobody can stop him. He's the best."
Then the NBA Finals happened, and LeBron's story became more complicated.
The loudest critics (like, say, Skip Bayless) provide an easy opportunity for the rest of us to differentiate ourselves from the stupidity, so the typical "enlightened" perspective on Bron is that he's way better than most fans give him credit for. But that's lazy, too. Not EVERYONE is Skip Bayless.
It's possible to give LeBron credit and still wonder where we're headed.
So after Game 4 on Sunday I was thinking back to the All-Star Game this year. When he dominated the scene all weekend and come gametime, he looked like the Incredible Hulk next to the best basketball players in the world. Then in the final minute, Kobe was baiting him and he wouldn't take the last shot. Instead he turned it over trying to pass to someone else. He looked like the basketball Hulk again on Sunday, but there's still a lot of crunch time left in these playoffs.
This is LeBron's league now, but he's given us plenty of reasons to wonder about him. In the All-Star Game, in the Finals, in random regular season games where we all over-analyze everything. The reason we pay close attention is because we've never seen someone who can look legitimately inhuman in some spots (Game 4), and painfully human elsewhere (Game 2). When he has a game like Sunday and everyone pretends the old criticism was a bunch of fantasy, it's as bad as the people who say he can't possibly be the NBA's best player without a title.
Either way, we miss what's unique about LeBron.
There's never been a player this good who comes with this many legitimate questions, and the NBA's never had a clear-cut MVP that so many fellow players openly disrespect. From Danny Granger in this Pacers series, to Kobe in the All-Star Game, to Deshawn Stevenson in last year's Finals. If this is Bron's generation to rule the basketball world, what happens if he doesn't win this year? Or next year?
In a world full of "told ya so!" arguments, we really have no idea how this plays out. The Heat could fall apart this spring and then win three straight titles. But for now the skepticism's perfectly legitimate, regardless of what happened Sunday. It's what makes every Miami game must-see-TV -- to see whether the best basketball player on earth can finally solidify his title with a title.
Every step of the way we've heard various explanations for his failures. Then last year happened and there weren't any, and all the quiet questions about LeBron became louder than ever. However you want to explain it, vindication hasn't happened, and LeBron James has a long way to go this year and beyond.
Until then, don't let the loudest voices on either side ruin the richest story in basketball. His outrageous Game 4 just reinforces the point. LeBron's obviously on a different level; that's why it's so incredible that he's never won a damn thing.