When making a case for LeBron James being the greatest basketball player of all time, one of the biggest arguments against it is the narrative of LeBron not being that cold-blooded killer ready to take the last shot in every situation like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. We have seen numerous situations in which LeBron passed on the last shot and deferred to his teammates rather than taking over.
A lot of the time, it was the right basketball play, but that still didn’t stop many fans from criticizing him for it and wanting him to take it upon himself to win the game, no matter what type of shot he gets. It’s a tricky subject, as everybody has their preference on deciding between the best possible shot or best player getting the shot no matter what.
A lot of players respect LeBron for it and like playing with him because they know they will get the pass if they are in the right position. That’s why players mostly don’t really buy into the narrative of LeBron not having a killer instinct and acknowledge he controls the end of the game no matter who has the ball.
Interestingly, one of his rivals from earlier in his career talked about this topic and came into LeBron’s defense with a great story about proving doubters wrong. Brendan Haywood was the starting center of the Washington Wizards led by Gilbert Arenas that battled with the Cavs a couple of times in the playoffs and was a part of the 2011 Mavericks Championship team that shocked LeBron’s Heat in the Finals. In the last year of his career, Haywood would play for the Cavaliers and mostly ride the pine but still received the opportunity of playing with LeBron.
Today Haywood has transitioned into a post-playing career of being an analyst and commentator for the NBA. While calling an NBA Summer Leauge game, Brendan told a story of LeBron changing the last play and drawing another one for himself, eventually hitting the shot and taking a crucial playoff win versus the Bulls back in 2015:
“It’s my last year in Cleveland; we’re in Chicago in the playoffs. And I all heard was about LeBron doesn’t want the shot in the last moment…you know how people talk about that narrative; it’s a false narrative. We’re down two; David Blatt draws a play for J.R. Smith. LeBron James has the wherewithal to say nah, that’s not the play we gonna run. He erases the play off the board, draws up his own play for himself to get the ball in the corner, and that’s the three that he hits against Jimmy Butler and Chicago for the game-winner. How many players in the clutch can say:‘ Hey, you know what, we’re not running that play, and as a matter of fact, I have my own play that we’re going to run and then execute it perfectly’. He knew where everybody was supposed to be. You go here, you go here, I’m gonna go here, and we’re gonna win the game.”Brendan Haywood, NBA Reddit
Haywood is talking about LeBron’s epic buzzer-beater in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals to tie up the series at 2-2 with the Chicago Bulls. It was a tough series and battle, with the Bulls led by Derrick Rose on the verge of taking a 3-1 lead. But LeBron decided to scratch Blatt’s play for J.R. Smith and take control into his own hands. Rightfully so, as LeBron was playing some of the best basketball of his career. It would turn out to be a good decision, as LeBron got them the crucial win that eventually played a huge part in them eventually bouncing out the Bulls in six games.
Haywood’s partner in the booth, Gus Johnson brought up the interesting point saying Scottie Pippen should have done the same thing when Phil Jackson opted to go with Toni Kukoč for the final shot, which he eventually made. But Haywood shut down that narrative by differentiating the levels of David Blatt and Phil Jackson. Blatt was an international rookie coach that didn’t command that kind of respect from LeBron, but with one of the best coaches ever in Phil Jackson, that type of move probably couldn’t be possible.