Home > Uncategorized > When Has There Ever Been This Much Pressure On One Player In One Non-Must-Win Game?

When Has There Ever Been This Much Pressure On One Player In One Non-Must-Win Game?

I’ve been trying to think about that title question all day, and I can’t remember a time when the masses called upon one player to provide them with much, even though there will be a tomorrow for everyone involved after tonight.

We are just about an hour away from Game 5 of this year’s NBA Finals, a game which has built up the most anticipation inside of me for any sporting contest since Game 7 of last year’s NBA Finals.

It’s Game 5, but it is certainly Game 7 for the Mavericks. The pressure** should be on them. There is no way Dallas is going to win a Game 7 in Miami, much less both Game 6 and 7 in that same city. If Dallas loses tonight, the final one or two games of this series will just be academic. With a win, the Heat are champions. Maybe not officially tonight, but it will happen before the end of next week.

If Miami loses tonight, they go home trailing in this series, 3-2. In reality, it would be a distressing situation for Miami, but I don’t think anyone is going to write them off as dead, given their talent.

Unfortunately, we no longer live in reality. Tonight, we all exist in a sports world where famine, pestilence and all-out Armageddon converge upon a 6-foot-8-inch basketball player from Akron, Ohio.

As least, that is what it seems. “The Decision” started it. The ensuing introductory press conference/concert intensified it. “Not one. Not two. Not three. Not four. Not five. Not six. Not seven … .” And from there, the spotlight brightened and the hate grew.

LeBron James is the best NBA player, one who has been to the NBA Finals before, but he was given a pass then. It was his first time. He wasn’t surrounded by first-class players. His team was the underdog.

But now he is the head of a basketball conglomerate the likes of which the NBA has never seen. Cocky, ultra-skilled, and they know it.

But it’s no cause to panic when Chris Bosh screws up. He’s the third wheel in this trio.

There was very little said after Dwayne Wade missed what would have been a game-tying free throw with 30 seconds left in Game 4, or that he booted the inbounds pass to start the final play in that game, resulting in a Mike Miller hoist as the Heat’s only option to tie the game. But hey, Wade has already won a championship.

It’s all about LeBron. He’s got “Chosen 1” tattooed across his back. Those were the bold words on his cover of Sports Illustrated in 2002. He wanted out of Cleveland, got what he wanted in Miami and is now supposed to lead his team to the mountaintop.

But the Finals script hasn’t been followed as we expected. LeBron played well in a Game 1 win. He played a little less than well in a Game 2 loss. He yielded to Wade in Game 3, which many wanted to trash as a signing of weakness, but the Heat won the game and gained control of the series, so it was pretty much forgotten. That is until Game 4 on Tuesday.

He didn’t score much. His defense slacked off. Zero points in the fourth quarter. He didn’t play like a king, and many wanted to know who is this forgery and where have they stored LeBron James.

On the surface, it was just a bad game and a loss for the Heat. They still hold home-court advantage in this series and anybody could have said the Heat should feel pretty good to be in such a close game on the road and still have a chance to force overtime at the buzzer with only eight total points contributed by James.

But that’s not how the last 45 hours or so have taken shape.

Anyone with an Internet connection or a working set of vocal cords has used words such as embarrassing, shrunk, confusing gave up, passive, disappear, etc., to describe James in Game 4. It wasn’t just a poor game, it was made out to be a performance of disgusting, disheartening proportions. Even the Mavericks got into the fray, as DeShawn Stevenson said LeBron mentally “checked out” of Tuesday’s game. In the past two days, Media members have done everything possible to put pressure on LeBron for this game. Everyone on SportsCenter — even those not associated with basketball — was polled for their own prediction on what will be James’ point total tonight.

The sense is the Heat doesn’t just need to win with a good game from LeBron. The Heat need to win with a legendary game from LeBron. Will everything be OK if LeBron scores just 10 points as Miami wins by 20? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. He has to be great in every facet of basketball. He has to silence all the doubters. He has to show that he can close in the fourth quarter in this series. He has to dominate like Godzilla on Japan, like a tank on toothpick houses. Anything less will be seen as him not living up to the moment.

It’s unfair, but the feeling is there. LeBron has even put it on himself, tweeting “Now or Never” early this morning and saying that this is the biggest game of his life.

But the fact is this: It’s only Game 5. And the pressure is actually on the Mavericks, even though everyone wants you to think otherwise.

Here we go …

**Scrutiny is probably a better word than pressure to use in this case. Damn. Oh well. The point remains.

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  1. becca
    June 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Oh come on. Lebron may be feeling some pressure, but lets point out why he choose the Heat over lets say Chicago. So that he wouldn’t have the pressure of always having to lead the team…

    Yes he may have pressure (and he’s put some of it on himself with the most important game of my life stuff) But I freaking guarantee you that its way more pressure to truly have to carry a team. I bet that Dirk feels more internal pressure. And Wade felt more internal pressure when he won his win.

    I’m a big gymnastics fan. And I watched a 16 year old rookie carry her team to the World Title pretty much on her back this year. Russia’s Mustafina was surrounded by a bunch of freaking headcases, and the girl pretty much had to carry her team kicking and screaming to the title. Now that’s dealing with pressure.

    Lebron made his choice, but the idea that he’s more pressured than anyone else is silly to me.

  2. June 10, 2011 at 12:58 am

    Thank you very much for the comment, Becca. Maybe pressure isn’t the right word. Scrutiny is probably a better fit. Damn, now I have to re-write the whole thing!

    LeBron is probably the most important athlete in sports these days. More than Tiger Woods, more than Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. He has probably surpassed Kobe. Because of his personal profile, his given and self-imposed hype, “The Decision,” the rally once in Miami and the possibility that he is the most gifted player in NBA history, he is open to unseen levels of scrutiny. The entire world is interested in his every move, and his every failure is magnified. And when he “fails” as he apparently has in this series, the grandest stage the NBA has to offer, it’s the biggest story in the entire sports landscape.

    He went to Miami to lessen his pressure on the court, but it just heightened it off of the court because that team is expected to win, as LeBron said, “not one, not two not three …” championships. In Cleveland, at least the expectations were a bit more tempered because of the so-so quality of his supporting class. Plus, it was Cleveland, a city that always seems to get written off in the sports media.

    Dirk may feel more internal pressure — I don’t know how LeBron emotionally deals all of the criticism — but the sheer volume of scrutiny on LeBron from everyone else other than him to win and win now dwarfs Dirk and anyone else, for that matter.

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