LeBron's 2010 Playoff Failure is a Blessing in Disguise

May 17, 2010

In a crucial Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff game with franchise-altering implications, the number one seed Cleveland Cavaliers fell last Thursday to the Boston Celtics in Game 6, 94-85, prompting an avalanche of criticism for LeBron James and his inability to win a title.

The LeBron-bashing has amounted to nothing short of a media and fanatical lynching. Cries of “LeChoke” and “LeBum” have rang across internet blogs and message boards, while words such as “quitter” and “underachiever” have been used to label him all over media outlets.

In the weeks to come, such talk will die out, as most of the LeBron discussions will center on which team he will sign with when he becomes a free agent on July 1. New York has been at the forefront of those rumors for quite a while now, with Chicago and Miami also being thrown around. Even New Jersey and the Los Angeles Clippers have been tossed in for good measure.

But once James signs a contract and the focus shifts back to basketball, what then becomes of his legacy?

The criticisms leveled at his early 2010 playoff exit may or may not be warranted, but such talk will not be what ultimately defines LeBron. Nor will his upcoming free agent courtship this summer, regardless of which team he chooses or how outlandish the offers from his suitors become.

Instead, what will define The King's legacy is how he will handle his gift of playoff failure.

It is ironic to think of failure as a gift. However, most of us do not fully appreciate it until it has been laid before our feet. Failure devastates and demoralizes. But failure also gives us the opportunity for redemption and for proving naysayers wrong. It builds character by allowing us to grow and develop. Most importantly, failure can give us the drive and motivation to be better than we have ever been.

Many of the NBA's greatest players have met abject failure. Magic Johnson earned the moniker “Tragic Johnson” after the 1984 NBA Finals when he made several late-game blunders and handed an otherwise certain title to the Celtics.

Similarly, Michael Jordan was repeatedly denied his first trip to the NBA Finals by the Detroit Pistons from 1987-1990.

Kobe Bryant has probably fallen from grace more times than any other player in recent memory. There was the rape allegation in 2003; the inability to even make the playoffs in 2004 after the Lakers traded Shaq; the early playoff exits to the Phoenix Suns; and the 29-point drubbing the Celtics gave him and the Lakers in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals, his MVP season.

What turned these great players into all-time greats, however, was their ability to channel those failures into absolute success.

Magic Johnson returned to the NBA Finals in 1985 with a strong performance to help the Lakers defeat the Celtics in six games. By the end of his career, Tragic Johnson was no more. In his place was a five-time NBA champion and the greatest point guard the game has ever seen.

Michael Jordan transformed himself from a primary scorer to a player who was able to dominate all facets of the game. We now know him as arguably the greatest player to ever play the game.

Kobe Bryant absorbed the negative criticism and threw it all into a fire pit of determination, culminating in his first NBA Finals MVP, first NBA championship without Shaquille O’Neal, and fourth championship overall when the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals. Today he is considered by most as the second-greatest shooting guard of all time.

Meanwhile, James has been an elite, standout performer for much of his basketball career.

In 2007, James led a so-so Cavs squad past a veteran Pistons unit and into the NBA Finals. Although Cleveland was swept later by a vastly superior San Antonio Spurs team, at the time that loss was viewed as more of an accomplishment than a failure, since James was a young, still-developing player who had exceeded expectations by simply getting to the Finals.

Most people also were willing to forgive the Cavaliers’ early playoff exit last season against the Orlando Magic because James had played out of his mind while the rest of his team decided to take an early vacation, especially faux All-Star Mo Williams.

This season, however, his failure was inexcusable.

The Cavaliers added Shaq to their front line to combat superstar center Dwight Howard, and to provide a much-needed offensive option in the low post.

The addition of another sharpshooter in Anthony Parker allowed them to stretch the floor even more. An improved J.J. Hickson and newcomer Jamario Moon gave the Cavaliers some extra athleticism. And about halfway through the season, the Cavaliers traded for former Sixth Man of the Year and two-time All-Star forward Antawn Jamison - a trade that had many analysts conceding the NBA title to Cleveland before the playoffs even began.

With the way the Cavaliers played in the regular season, it looked as if those people were right.

After a rocky start, the Cavaliers blew through the regular season en route to another NBA-best 61-win effort. Unlike last year, where they lost to nearly every major title contender, the Cavaliers swept the Lakers this season and defeated the Celtics and the Magic with at least one convincing victory. James was eventually awarded his second consecutive regular season MVP trophy.

All that success came crashing down when the Cavaliers met the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The Celtics, healthy at last, proved to be the better team with their trademark suffocating defense. But it was not as if the Cavaliers could not compete. They could have won, but it would have required James to be at his absolute best.

After showing his MVP form in an amazing Game 3 performance in which he delivered the Celtics their worst home playoff loss in franchise history, something happened to James in Game 5.

Whether it was mental fatigue from constantly carrying the Cavaliers year after year, or an attempt on his part to send a message to management that he still needed better teammates, James decided to quit.

Looking completely disengaged and uninterested, James did not attack the rim like his usual self, opting to make passive passes and then stand and watch on the perimeter. The Cavaliers lost that pivotal game by 32.

A team is usually only as tough as its leader, and that proved to be true in the Cavaliers’ last game of the season. With about a minute left and his team down nine points, James and his fellow Cavaliers stood by and just waited for the clock to tick down to zero. There was no urgency, no desperation. As James had quit on the team in Game 5, the team quit on itself in Game 6.

Many of LeBron’s defenders have tried to put the blame elsewhere: the bruised elbow, Mike Brown’s coaching incompetence, bad teammates.

Sorry, but Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash both dominated their respective series while dealing with injuries, Mike Brown was not on the court playing, and James signed off on every trade and free agent pickup.

Nope, this was on James.

For the first time in his basketball life, James had failed on an individual level. But this failure should not define him. Nor will his decision on where he will play next season.

An opportunity for true greatness has knocked on James’ door. How he decides to answer will be what defines LeBron James.

By Kien Le
Staff Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald.com


  1. 'Bron is coming to NYC, no ifs ands or buts about it. Now he knows that he won't ever win in Cleveland with that team or coach. He comes to NYC with Bosh, a run & gun coach, and all the publicity he can handle. Dull azz Ohio is too small for him. The Knicks are back

  2. All that dancing and foolishness he did on the sidelines this year didn't mean sh*t when the playoffs came around.

    He needed to stop acting like a punk and raise his game.

  3. LeBron is staying with the Cavs. Money talks and nobody can give him a bigger contract than Cleveland. Not NY, Miami, or Chicago. Check your salary cap rules.

  4. I can't wait to see the league when Lebron play's for NYC!


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