Some people will never admit it, but at this point in his career, it is almost a fact that LeBron James is one of the two greatest basketball players of all time. The King has three titles and three finals MVPs with three different franchises in what has been an 18-year career (so far.) James was also the leader of the only team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals and did so against one of the greatest teams of all-time in the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. In those Finals, LeBron led both teams in nearly every statistical category available. He is also on pace to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the game’s all-time leading scorer while being the first player in NBA history to finish his career in the top 10 of both assists and points.
After all this, doubters will always point to the one thing they have been clinging on to since the first time LeBron passed up an opportunity to take the last shot to win a game – “Oh he is afraid of the moment, too passive. He is not clutch!” they say… First of all, we must note that no player has taken and made every single game-winning shot available to them in their careers. There are too many examples to name, but two that might stick are when Michael Jordan kicked it to John Paxson and then years later to Steve Kerr to win crucial games in the NBA finals.
Passing to a teammate when the game is on the line is not a sign of weakness or fear; it’s just basketball. Such is the case with LeBron James, who has often been criticized for making the right basketball play countless times in late-game situations. He is an amazing passer, and it is nearly impossible for one (or sometimes two) people to stop LeBron when going to the basket, so why wouldn’t he give it up?
This is LeBron’s style of leadership, plain and simple, and it is not about whether this is better than MJ’s or Kobe’s way or not. Passing the ball to an open teammate is not a sign of a lack of this so-called killer instinct; it’s simply understanding the best option to make an effective play to win the game and try to execute that. If Michael and Kobe did it to win, why shouldn’t LeBron? And if it worked several times for both of those guys, why shouldn’t LeBron sharpen that weapon in his team’s arsenal?
The objective of all the greats through decades of basketball has always been the same, yet we try to find nuances that can make one way better than the other when the reality is the ability to get a guy that wide open is the gift that the all-time greats have. Just look at what Luka Dončić did to Lithuania yesterday.
It is from the mere fact that they are on the court that there cannot be a standard game plan to victory, and instead, teams have to constantly change what they are doing and be extra sharp in order to make life somewhat difficult for that one person. The great ones challenge their teammates to step up to the plate, and whether that is through tough love or encouragement, it should not matter as long as the objective is the right one.
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