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Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Enigmatic LeBron James

LeBron James is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. He is also one of the most perplexing members of that elite group. He has tremendous physical talent and he is a student of the game; that combination of athletic ability and mental prowess makes some of his decisions and actions baffling. How can someone who is so great just quit at home in game five of a 2-2 series?

How can someone who is so great be outplayed for extended stretches in the NBA Finals by the likes of Jason Terry and Kawhi Leonard? The great multiple-time MVPs and/or multiple-time champions--including Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were never the primary reason that their teams lost and they were never outplayed in their primes by non-Hall of Fame players with a championship on the line.

My newest article for The Roar examines the enigmatic nature of LeBron James' greatness:

The Enigmatic LeBron James

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:32 PM


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At Monday, March 23, 2015 5:40:00 AM, Anonymous CR said...

You would not include Larry Bird in that group of multiple championship players?

At Monday, March 23, 2015 6:32:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Well to be fair, Kobes Lakers featured four first ballot hall of famers and they were the heavily favorites to domolish the Pistons. His overall performance in that series was not that good.
That pistons squad featured no hall of famers.

I don't believe one or two not so good playoff series defines a player. Even some of the best to ever play had those types of series.

At Monday, March 23, 2015 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...


David will disagree, but for my money Kobe's performance in the '04 Finals is the worst playoff performance by a top 20 player of all time. While it's true that Lebron wasn't great in '10 or '11- I remember '14 a bit differently than David does, as I still thought Lebron was the best player in that series but just got no help whatsoever- at least he wasn't actively hurting his team. Kobe was shooting an awful percentage and a massive volume, freezing Shaq out of the offense, and not putting in much effort on defense. Detroit had no answer for Shaq at all, and if Kobe had been willing to feed the big fella instead of shooting his team out of the series trying to make a point, he'd have six rings instead of five.

At Monday, March 23, 2015 3:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying your work on The Roar, especially the back and forths you're having with people in the comments section which are virtually identical to the ones here.

It is astounding that so many people have seemingly forgotten about LeBron's major playoff failures in 2010/2011 yet they still harp on Kobe for "quitting" against Phoenix in game 7. It just highlights the NBA media bias that shamelessly props up players such as LeBron, Chris Paul and James Harden but mindlessly eviscerates and ridicules guys such as Kobe, Allen Iverson, and Westbrook. It was certainly good to see AI show support for Westbrook with his recent comments.

At Monday, March 23, 2015 4:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair, Shaq didn't have his previous high impact even with great stats in the 04 Finals, and his defense was terrible. After he and Kobe, nobody else on the Lakers played even reasonably well. Kobe played poorly, but he had to force a lot. And even if he played great, the Lakers still had little chance to win. Maybe if Malone was healthy, but he wasn't. He tried, but just wasn't able to do much. Payton was terrible. Devean George might've been their 3rd best player. How you going to win with that? He shouldn't even have been in the rotation. Both teams were #1 seeds, but DET had the 2nd best record in the East, only 2 games worse than LAL. They were hungry and healthy, and LAL wasn't, at least health-wise. Really, shouldn't have been much surprise that DET won. While Kobe/Shaq's casts were never great, their 04 Finals cast ended up being extraordinarily terrible.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


For this particular article, I decided to stick with players who had won at least five championships. In a longer piece, I would have brought Erving, Bird and a few other players into the discussion as well but I did not want to give critics the easy out of saying "LeBron has already won as many titles (or almost as many titles) as Player X."

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If Gail Goodrich and Jerry West had come out of retirement then the Lakers would have had six HoFers--and West probably would have played better defense against Billups than Payton did in that series.

The 2004 Finals was not the highlight of Kobe's career but it was not a huge blemish, either--certainly not in the way that 2010 and 2011 are for LeBron James.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, I disagree, for the same reasons that I have mentioned many times and will just summarize briefly:

1) The Malone injury is the number one reason that the Lakers lost; when Malone was healthy that season the Lakers were a dominant team.
2) Payton playing like a 102 year old man is the number two reason that the Lakers lost; Kobe had to expend a lot of extra energy covering up for Payton and that directly contributed to Kobe not being as sharp as usual on offense.
3) Fisher's injury was also a factor, because the Lakers did not have much depth and he was a very useful role player at that stage of his career.
4) The idea that Kobe was gunning for glory and intentionally overlooking Shaq is untrue. Kobe's heroics are the only reason that the Lakers did not get swept. Shaq shot a good percentage on the shots that he took but it is a fallacy to suggest that it would have been easier to get him more shots. That is like saying that because Tyson Chandler shoots .700 from the field he should get the ball every time down the court. Obviously, Shaq was a much better scorer and player than Chandler but it is almost always wrong (or at least vastly oversimplified) to just look at FG% and declare that a certain player should have gotten more shots. Shaq and Kobe, despite their differences, knew how to work together well enough to win three straight titles and I don't think that after that run Kobe suddenly forgot how to feed the post. Kobe deserves a lot more credit than that. Kobe overcame injuries and some off court problems (of his own making) to have a great season and playoffs or the Lakers would not have even made it to the Finals.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, there are some players who the media (and fans) love to pick on no matter what (Pippen, Iverson, Kobe, Westbrook are notable members of that group) and others who are, as you put it, "shamelessly propped up."

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 6:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe did not play poorly in the 2004 Finals; he struggled with his shooting but his floor game/overall game were not bad. Again, this was not the highlight of his career but he didn't just flat out quit like LeBron did on more than one occasion.

I just went back and checked something; while Kobe attempted 29 more field goals than Shaq in that five game series, Shaq attempted 30 more free throws (and only made four more than Kobe, who shot .920 from the free throw line against Detroit). That is a further indication that Nick's insistance that Shaq did not get enough touches is not true; often when Shaq got the ball in the paint the Pistons just hacked him and took their chances that he would miss free throws. Shaq's high FG% came on those occasions when he got the ball before anyone could foul him, which was hard to do because the Pistons made a point of fouling him as often as possible.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 6:56:00 AM, Blogger beep said...


I think people totally miss your point. It's not that great players didn't have poor games, it's just that even then they never quit and tried their best regardless.

That's not that much subtle difference to overlook it, but people seem to do so for whatever reason. Or they simply deny LeBron quitting at all, which is downright silly if one actually watched that game.

That's so puzzling LeBron, who could eat them alive if he wanted to (see 2007 Detroit game with so much worse cast), was so disengaged from the game.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 11:17:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I've no interest in getting back into the '04 argument neither of us are going to budge on, but I will make one point-

Tyson Chandler doesn't create his own offense. Shaq is the greatest creator of his own offense of the last twenty years. It's not like he was just scoring on unotested layups. And as for the fouling- that's a good thing. The Lakers won three titles letting opposing teams foul themselves out of the game. Detroit was a much weaker team with either Wallace on the bench, and riding Shaq would have beaten them. I believe in Phil said as much, though unfortunately "Phil Jackson on 2004 finals" just gets me google results for a bunch of boxscores and next day recaps, so I can't source it.

That said, I agree that if your point is that only Lebron has ever gone weirdly passive among greats, I pretty much agree. Kobe's problem was the opposite; if anything, he cared too much, or about the wrong things.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 11:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick likes to denigrate Kobe, so no surprise on his 2004 stance with Kobe. I still think Kobe played poorly, at least from his standard. Overall, compared to the average nba player, no. He was still playing like a true star. He averaged 46mpg. And yes, he had to basically do everything out there: defensively, offensively, ballhandling, playmaking; just for the Lakers to remain competitive and actually win a game. When Devean George is your 3rd best player, what chance do you have?

Kobe wasn't shooting absurd totals, and Shaq wasn't shooting like 5x/game. Shaq averaged 17FGA/game compared to his 14FGA/game during the reg. season. Kobe was at 23FGA/game in the finals, not a super high total. And really, he probably should've shot more. I don't know where this notion of Kobe being some pestulent child trying to make a point in the nba finals of all stages, risking a title. And yes, he had injuries/legal problems throughout the season, very strange season overall for him. Outside he and Shaq, everyone else was completely unreliable. He got his touches, got fouled a lot, and when he had to pass out of double teams, the open LAL would then miss the shot usually. He was getting older and tired quicker, especially given his 42mgp in the finals. When he had an extra day of rest before games 1 and 4, that's when he played his best. I'm sure he tried to play good defense, but he just couldn't for one reason or another, and DET ate him up on that end.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 12:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beep, yes, James is a very puzzling player. However, while 2007 cast wasn't that great, it was actually still good enough for him to win a title that year. DET only won 53 games to CLE's 50 in 2007. DET was a different team compared to their 04/05 teams and certainly worse. They weren't a formidable team to go up against. James played well, but not amazing overall. His scoring/shooting were down compared to his reg. season. His cast was definitely good enough to help him win that series. The East was just so weak, as it usually is.

In the finals, James tried to prove a point that he was 'the man', and stopped feeding Gooden/Big Z in the post. (No, not really, that was for Nick). But, he shot 23x/game and shot very poorly from everywhere, shooting more than 2x as much as anyone else. He was only the 3rd best player in that series. If he played even average for himself or played like the best player in the series, the Cavs most likely win the series. The 07 Spurs weren't a great title team. They had a solid Big 3, but none of them were superstars at that point. Ginobili's only made 2 AS for his career. Duncan was slowing down, and Parker's never really approached elite status. After them, their cast knew their roles, but they weren't that great. All 4 games were winnable for the Cavs, especially 3/4, had James played even remotely better.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 3:14:00 PM, Blogger beep said...


My point is 2007 CLE was weak in comparison to 2010/11, yet they made The Finals, and LeBron was a key to that.
I think that Detroit team was still strong enough. I remember media scared of SA/DET slugfest in finals. I blame that lost serie on coach Saunders. LeBron was pretty one dimensional back then, which is why CLE was swept by SA, yet DET coach wouldn't adjust.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 4:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You probably meant weak compared to 09/10 casts. You said James had a much weaker cast compared to DET in 07, which is why I commented on that because that was simply not true. Yes, DET was still good, but far from great, and marginally better than CLE at best. When the top 2 teams in your conf. have 53 and 50 wins, doesn't say much about your conf. Both teams would've struggled to win even one playoff series in the West, which is why I don't subscribe to the theory that James leading CLE to the finals in the East in 07 as that great of an accomplishment. Sure, he deserves some credit, but not nearly as much as he gets for that.

James gets a pass far too often, especially for a supposed all-time great, even in 07. And even this year as many still think he should be MVP, despite have a great roster, playing in a weak conf., and underachieving overall. Yes, he played great in the DET series, but not so much greater than what he had done previously that season. Both of those teams were very close in ability. When that's the case, the team with the best player usual wins. Not much of a surpise, if any, that CLE won that series.

And while he had a lot more weaknesses in 07, he still should've been able to play better against SA. If he had just upped his play from terrible to slightly below mediocre, the series would've been 2-2 at worst for CLE. SA was very good, but far from being a great title team. This is what a lot of people seem to forget or won't admit. CLE had a real chance to win that series, and could've if James had just played around average. This is much different than Kobe in the 04 finals. LAL basically only had 2 players, and nobody else could do a thing. Plus, even if Kobe played out of his mind, they still likely lose.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 5:23:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Disagree that that 07 Spurs team was weak. They still had Tim Duncan in roughly his prime, and a strong, deep supporting cast. Being able to throw Bruce Bowen at the opposing team's best perimeter player while Duncan controls the paint is just brutal, and Cleveland wasn't well enough equipped on defense to deal with Parker/Manu/Duncan.

Agree that LAL in '04 only had two guys. My argument has always been that they should have played through the one of them that was an unstoppable force of nature.

Disagree that I "denigrate" Kobe. I criticize him the same as I do almost every player (I look forward to the day I can find a nit to pick with Duncan's greatness), but I still hold him in extremely high esteem. He's a top 8-15 player (exactly where in that range he falls depends on my mood and which direction the wind is blowing), very probably the second best shooting guard to ever play the game, arguably the second best guard to ever play the game, and one of the five or six most competitive people to ever wear a jersey.

None of that means he played smart basketball in 2004, though.

At Tuesday, March 24, 2015 10:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't say SA's cast was weak. They were still very good, but not an extremely intimidating team. Duncan was still a top player, but he was certainly on the downside of his prime at best. CLE's defense was the only reason they were able to stay competitive in the 4 game sweep. SA only averaged 86.5ppg, and only once scored even that much with 103 in game 2.

Shaq was not the same player in 2004 as he was from 00-02. As I pointed out earlier, he wasn't in top shape and got tired easier, but had to play 42mpg. When he had an extra day or more of rest is when he played his best. He was still a great player, but no longer LAL's top player, though he probably had a better mismatch than Kobe. However, with the way the rest of LAL's shooters were shooting, DET could just double team without having to worry about anyone else much. It's a complete misnomer than Shaq didn't get his touches in the 04 finals. You're just seeing what you want to see and grasping at straws at best.

At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 12:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is puzzling that so many people don't believe and/or cannot accept that LeBron James has quit in several playoff games and that this sets him apart from the other players in the sport's highest echelon.

At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 12:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You may have misunderstood my point about Shaq's free throw attempts. Whenever you dog Kobe about that series you keep stressing how many FGAs Kobe had compared to how many FGAs Shaq had but you are ignoring the reality that many of Shaq's potential FGAs ended up as FTAs because the Pistons fouled him rather than giving up dunks. You keep saying that Kobe willfully froze out Shaq but even without going back and rewatching the games one can look at the stats and see that Shaq had plenty of touches. Also, as I mentioned before, you are falling into the fallacy that because Player X had a high FG% he should have shot the ball every time down the court. It was not possible to get the ball to Shaq every time and if Shaq had shot more then his FG% would have likely decreased.

In his diary "The Last Season," Jackson did mention a couple times that perhaps the Lakers should have fed Shaq more but he did not say that was the big issue. Jackson mentioned that after the Lakers' game two victory Shaq told respected assistant coach/Triangle Offense guru Tex Winter to "Shut the f--- up" and Jackson bemoaned the fact that Shaq acted so immaturely after such a stirring win. Jackson also mentioned that his biggest concern coming into the series was Malone's injury and that the "real factor" in the game one loss was Billups torching Payton.

In his notes after the series, Jackson identified Malone's injury, Billups' dominance of Payton and Kobe being worn down by the weight of the season as perhaps the biggest factors in the series. He also felt that Detroit's reputation as a defensive-minded team enabled them to get the benefit of the doubt on some questionable calls.

At Wednesday, March 25, 2015 12:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You say that you don't "denigrate" Kobe but you also consistently argue--against all stats and evidence--not just that Kobe's performance is the biggest factor in the Lakers' loss in the 2004 Finals but that Kobe played selfishly. No one is saying that the 2004 Finals are the highlight of Kobe's career but it is more than a reach to say that Kobe's selfishness cost the Lakers the title. I think that qualifies as "denigration," even if you insist that your overall opinion of Kobe is high.


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