Last season proved to be a transcendent year for the National Basketball Association. On the heels of the much heralded summer of 2010 free agency class, came one of the most anticipated campaigns in the League’s history. Naturally, most of the attention was centered in South Florida. Miami, to be exact. When LeBron exercised his right as a free agent to switch teams, he unknowingly set off a fire storm throughout all of sports that still hasn’t been squelched.
With a dominant trio of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the 2010 – 2011 Miami Heat endured more attention and scrutiny than any team in an sport, quite possibly ever. In fact, they would make any Yankees team over the past two decades blush in terms of scrutiny. While many pundits initially proclaimed that it would take the Heat a few years to gel before they were able to truly contend for a championship, the Heat found themselves on the biggest stage in the Finals a year ago. Ahead of schedule, according to some.
Up until this point, the beginning of the 2011 Finals, “LeBron James”, “4th quarter” and “choke”, were as distant as any three terms/words could be. Sure, LeBron was never able to capture a championship while a member of the Cavs, but many subscribed to the theory stating that was the case primarily because he never played alongside a single all-star in seven years in Cleveland. No more, no less. But something changed about a year ago. June 5, 2011 to be exact. Something that has changed the conversation for good, it seems:
That was Gregg Doyel, from CBS Sports, who asked that question.
To put this into proper context, Doyel asked that question during the post-game press conference following game 3 of the Finals last year, which resulted in a Miami win and 21 points from LeBron. This was after the Heat ran the Mavs out of the gym in game 1, squandered a huge lead and gave away game 2, and squeezed out game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead, although you could argue they should’ve been up 3-0. So on the surface, it would’ve seemed, at the time, as if any sort of criticism aimed at LeBron was unwarranted. Especially the way Doyel concluded his question with a “..what’s going on?” It made it seem as if the question was coming from a bad place.
And Doyel paid for it. The next day he was lambasted for asking LeBron that question. Just Google “Doyel LeBron question” and simply read the headlines if you don’t believe me. That will tell the story for the most part. Just about everyone thought Doyel’s question to be ridiculous. Myself included. But what Doyel unknowingly did was reshape the way in which LeBron has been perceived. Prior to that question, in that presser, following that game, no one associated “LeBron”, “4th quarter” and “choke.” Don’t believe me? Name a time during his tenure in Cleveland, or anytime prior to that press conference, where you thought LeBron was a subpar 4th quarter performer. I’ll wait.
See, while in Cleveland, the extent of LeBron’s criticisms included an occasional, “he passes too much in critical situations”, but even those were few and far between, and they certainly didn’t define him the way this seems to define him now. In fact, one of LeBron’s biggest moments while in Cleveland was a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer during game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic. Even prior to that, there was also the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals where LeBron scored the final 25 Cavalier points as Cleveland outlasted Detroit in double OT in game 5. Big time 4th quarter performances in both cases. There was never a single “LeBron can’t get it done in the 4th quarter” criticism prior to Doyel. Not one. Ever.
He did, however, have a forgettable Eastern Conference Finals series against Boston, as his final stanza in Cleveland, but that alone wasn’t enough to change the conversation to the level in which it is now.
But was Doyel wrong in his assertion? Not at all. He was actually groundbreaking. Leading up to the Finals, LeBron had a solid series versus Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago which made Doyel seem even more ridiculous. Doyel was right on the money and simply beat everybody else to it. However, it wasn’t that LeBron was “shrinking” in the 4th quarter so much that he played timid for entire games. After game 3, he didn’t seem engaged, he wasn’t aggressive and wanted no parts of the ball in certain situations.
Did Doyel get to him mentally? Perhaps. Because it got worse after game 3 as Doyel’s question’s legs grew longer.
Because of the aforementioned, I will always contest that the person most responsible for the Dallas Mavericks winning the championship last year wasn’t Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Rick Carlisle, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, or anybody associated with the team. It was LeBron James. If LeBron played up to his full potential in the Finals, the Heat would’ve swept the series. Easily. Too much credit is given to “what Dallas did to take LeBron out of the series.” That couldn’t be any farther from the truth, which is why Dallas’ championship will always seem hollow to me. The Mavs won because the lights were too bright for LeBron. Period.
If Doyel truly did get to LeBron mentally, then he is also to be indirectly credited with the “LeBron needs to develop a better post game” decrees. Because I ask you, up until that point, when did we ever hear a single criticism about LeBron’s post game? I’ll wait again. It got to the point where we had to come up with a reason why LeBron didn’t perform as well as he should have when it was simply a good ol’ fashioned case of stage fright.
So as we get set to observe another Finals for LeBron and the Heat, I thought it necessary to bring light to the true reason why many label LeBron as a 4th quarter choker and someone who can’t close. Gregg Doyel is to be credited and so is LeBron for giving him the ammunition to do so.
This LeBron, 4th quarter phenomenon is barely a year old, but we treat it as if this is something that has haunted and plagued him forever. That is not the case. In fact, had Doyel never asked that question, I’m not sure the “Don’t ask LeBron for change for a dollar because he’ll only give you three quarters” jokes would’ve ever been born. Nor would Lance Stephenson (of all people) think that a missed free throw during the third quarter of a playoff game warrants a choke sign. There’s a good chance that it would not have been magnified the way it has by Doyel bringing it to light.
So if you choose to criticize LeBron’s 4th quarter performance, I think it’s important to know its origins and length. I simply just felt the responsibility to fully explain why we are where we are.