The LeBron James Clutch Debate That Just Won't Die

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 03: (L-R) LeBron James #6 and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat look on against the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 3, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

It wouldn't be the NBA Playoffs if we weren't arguing about LeBron James in the clutch. After Sunday's loss to the Celtics in Game 4, both sides will be louder than ever.

This is probably something that doesn't bother all the people out there who have normal lives and balanced interests and barely any time to check Twitter and watch sports talk on TV, but for anyone who lives with the 24/7 sports news cycle every day, the LeBron Clutch Debate is the diseased-deformed beast that just won't die.

To recap Sunday's developments: With Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals winding down and the Boston Celtics up three points, LeBron James hit a wide open three to tie it for Miami, and the ghosts of crunch time's past were quiet. Shouting analysts cursed their TVs from coast to coast. He finally delivered. But then ... LeBron had the ball with 21 seconds to go and a chance to win, annnnnd ... he passed to Udonis Haslem. It wasn't even a good pass, and the play ended with Haslem hurling a desperate 18-footer as time expired. Then James fouled out in overtime, forfeiting any chance at redemption.

Exactly the ammo all the analysts needed!

[/tightens noose]

There are two sides of this debate that ruin it for everyone.


These are the ones who consider themselves above the amateur psychology that comes with each new crunch time failure because it's an inexact science that accomplishes nothing. "More fuel for the narrative!" they say sarcastically whenever LeBron fails.

The idea is that "LeBron fails in the clutch" is just some imagined story (ahem ... narrative) people have created to get hits and ratings and sell papers. If you buy into it, you're part of the narrative problem. People point to his flawless numbers overall, everything he does for the Heat beyond scoring, and tell skeptics that basketball's more than just the last shots that casual fans notice. It's all a little condescending.

Like it means nothing that LeBron had the ball for 20 seconds on the final possession, and it ended with a desperate jumper from Udonis Haslem. Can't you just appreciate the best player on earth and not notice the most interesting detail about his story? Stop feeding the narrative because the narrative is just a narrative.

It's the narrative narrative. It's the worst.

If someone who wasn't a sports fan watched all basketball on mute and never read the internet or watched ESPN, he'd watch Heat games and probably ask, "Why does the guy who seems like he can dominate with the flick of a switch never flick the switch when his team needs it most?" This isn't some story people invented to make sense of Heat losses. If anything, following things every day just distracts people from the larger point.

On that last shot in Game 4, LeBron held the ball for 10 or 15 seconds and then drove straight into a Boston triple team instead of taking things to the left hand side, where he had plenty of space to create a shot for himself or attack the rim. Sure, he made the right play to pass once he was triple teamed, but only because he passed up a chance to attack elsewhere.


Good God now this means we're agreeing with Skip Bayless, the guy who inspired a thousand DJ Steve Porter Tim Tebow anthems, the guy who starred in head-splitting discussion of ethnic over-sensitivity, and the guy who calls LeBron "The Frozen One" with a stupid smirk that makes me makes me want to take an axe to my TV.

Even if Skip has a point about the last play in regulation, the problem is that he's going to use it to support the idea that LeBron can't possibly be the best player in the NBA because he's somehow a fraud in crunchtime, a horrible no-good me-first human being, Queen Lames, etc. And MILLIONS of people agree with this. Like Game 4's game-tying three never happened, or like the Heat would have been able to come back from 18 points to tie the game without LeBron doing his thing all game.

They refuse to appreciate how stupidly dominant LeBron is, all because he doesn't dominate in crunch time. Or hasn't done it often enough. So, if you question LeBron's decisions on that last-second play, you risk being grouped in with all the race-baiting/ratings-baiting analysts who make everyone dumber and/or angrier, AND the millions of people who fall for it hook, line and sinker. And suddenly you don't appreciate the most dominant player of this generation.

Anyway, I've said all this before, but it never stops driving me crazy, so sometimes I just have to vent. I think the lesson from LeBron is this: the smartest people in the room and the dumbest people in the room can suck the fun out of pretty much any great story.

Together, the two sides are practically unstoppable.

But lest you drown in dumb hyperbole or smug detachment ... It's continues to be amazing that the most invincible basketball player we've seen since Wilt may have a glaring flaw that follows him wherever he goes and rears its head only in the biggest moments of his career. It's why we watch the playoffs. Over the course of 10-15 years, they write the endings to stories we get addicted to.

No story in sports is more addictive than LeBron James right now because there's nobody with more talent, there's nobody with more questions, and the answer to every LeBron question is we don't know. That's what makes this stuff so much fun.

While the argument rolls on, there's a giant pit of ambiguity between two extremes, and LeBron keeps digging his way deeper, one pass to Udonis Haslem at a time.

For more on these teams, visit Heat blog Peninsula is Mightier and CelticsBlog. To stay up to date on all of the happenings in the 2012 NBA playoffs, head over to SB Nation's dedicated NBA hub.

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