"We played good enough to give ourselves a chance to win," LeBron James said. "That's all you can ask for."
This was LeBron in the aftermath of the Heat's loss to the Celtics in Game 5 Tuesday night, and if you ever had a friend demand an explanation for all the hysteria surrounding LeBron, you could point to this quote to explain everything.
It's just so perfect.
He's not wrong, theoretically. Sports boils down to a series of random bounces, and in the abstract, I guess all you can hope for is that you play well enough to give yourself a chance to win and things bounce your way. But anyone who's ever played sports would probably look at things differently. The whole point of competition is that you play to control the outcome.
I know everyone's going to be coming down on LeBron over the next 48 hours, and God knows what'll happen if Miami loses Game 6 in Boston. But at the core of it all, that 16-word quote after Game 5 epitomizes why LeBron James drives everyone insane.
This is the neverending clutch debate in the abstract; we want to see LeBron take responsibility for the outcome, win or lose, and all he does is make things more ambiguous. At the biggest moments of his career, all he does is detach. Over and over and over again.
In 2010, when he followed a terrible Game 5 loss against these same Celtics by saying, "I spoil a lot of people with my play. When you have three bad games in seven years, it’s easy to point them out."
In 2011, after the NBA Finals loss, when he said, "At the end of the day, all the people that were rooting for me to fail ... at the end of the day, tomorrow they have to wake up and have the same life that [they had] before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems they had today. And I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do."
And now, "We played good enough to give ourselves a chance to win. That's all you can ask for."
There's a hurricane of controversy that follows anything that happens to the Miami Heat, and LeBron's constantly in the eye for what he does or doesn't do. But the root of it all comes back to the difference between who he wants to be, who we want him to be, and who he is.
- He is the most talented basketball player we've seen since Michael Jordan, and this makes him the logical heir to generations of superstars and MVPs who put their teams on their back and took matters into their own hands, single-handedly transcending all the random bounces that shape the games, playoff series, and legacies.
- He isn't like those players. Or hasn't been so far.
Ninety-five percent of the time he talks like them and he walks like them, so we look at him through the same lens as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant and everyone else who ever refused to be human. Except... In LeBron's career so far, he's reaped the benefits that come with following in their footsteps, but then when the outcome's really in doubt, he takes a step back.
So as the media gets ready to crash down on him all over again, if an outsider wants to understand why it happens, it's because he's the most convincing heir to the throne we have. We look at him that way, he looks at himself that way, Nike and ESPN sell him that way ... but then in the handful of moments where he's really been tested, he hasn't just failed to live up to the hype, but distanced himself from the expectations altogether.
One man can only do so much, he says in so many ways.
Maybe he has a point. But to a world of basketball fans who grew up with superstars who believed otherwise and made us believe, too, it's a disconnect that doesn't make sense.
It doesn't even make sense in the world LeBron's created for himself. Remember when the best player on earth promised "not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six" championships? If all you can ask for is "a chance to win," someone should've told LeBron.