No athlete in the world has taken a beating publicly from fans, the sports media and other professional athletes for not being clutch more than LeBron James.
For years ESPN talking head Skip Bayless has mercilessly mocked LeBron for not having the “clutch gene” or being afraid of driving to the hoop because he doesn’t want to shoot free throws at the end of games. Bayless often referred to the 2011 NBA Finals as the low point of James’ career when he peppered him with shot after shot. Bayless says it is nothing personal, but his criticisms are so incendiary that it has fueled a lot of LeBron haters out there.
Bayless was somewhat muted after LeBron won a championship in 2012, but the damage had already been done. Every time LeBron stumbles his critics are quick to revisit his past failures. Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah loves to poke fun at LeBron every chance he gets. Noah recently challenged James’ manhood by calling him a pussy.
It took a few years for James to finally rid of the stigma that he shrinks in big moments. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 NBA Finals not only validated LeBron’s place as the game’s best player but it also grew his legend by coming two games short of winning a title with depleted Cavaliers squad. His stat line during the series with Golden State was straight out of a Marvel comic book. Take away LeBron and these Cavs — even with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — do not make the playoffs.
What so-called experts such as Bayless and other basketball scribes fail to recognize is that LeBron has succeeded more often than he has failed during his postseason career.
In the last 15 years, no NBA player has had more buzzer-beaters in the postseason than LeBron. That’s just as many Jordan had in his legendary career and two more than Kobe.
In the 2006 playoffs, Bron’s first playoff appearance, he scored the game-winning basket for the Cavaliers on a driving layup to beat the Wizards. In 2009, he caused a minor tremor in Cleveland when he drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the circle to stun the Orlando Magic. In Game 1 of the 2013 East finals, as a member of the Miami Heat, James scooted past Paul George and the Indiana Pacers with an electrifying left-handed layup to beat the buzzer.
There was a moment in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals that changed a legacy. The San Antonio Spurs were poised to tie the game when the great Tim Duncan had a point-blank layup and missed. A few minutes later, LeBron hit a midrange jumper from the right wing to give the Heat a cushion with 27 seconds left in the game. It was a four-point swing that solidified James’ place in history. Had James lost to Duncan again, he would have been branded a one-hit wonder.
Winning back-to-back titles validated LeBron as a true champion. James’ stat line in that Game 7 was mind-blowing: 37 points in 45 minutes, 12 rebounds, and 5-for-10 from behind the 3-point line. His best shot probably came after the game during the on-court championship celebration when LeBron said, “I can’t worry about what everybody says about me. I’m LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here.”
He has already won.
The latest LeBron clutch moment came in Game 4 of the 2015 East first-round game in Chicago when he reminded everyone that he is still the game’s best player and added to his growing legend. With 1.5 seconds left in a tie game, Bron “scratched” the play head coach David Blatt drew up and called his own number.
James said: “I told Coach there was no way I’m taking the ball out unless I could shoot it over the backboard and go in. So I told him, ‘Have somebody else take the ball out.’ The play that was drawn up, I scratched it. I just told Coach, ‘Just give me the ball. We’re either going to go into overtime or I’m going to win it for us.'”
That quote doesn’t sound like a player who shrinks in big moments.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.