Prior to Game 1 of the Miami Heat's series against the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James accepted his third NBA Most Valuable Player Award. Then he went out and showed why, delivering a brilliant performance Sunday with 32 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a victory. The Heat endured the entire second half without injured forward Chris Bosh, one of the team's three best players and its most important big man.
Game 2 was a different story Tuesday, but mainly in that Miami lost. James had another fine outing, finishing with 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and six steals while carrying the team in the first and fourth quarters. But he missed two crucial free throws that would have tied the game with a minute left. And he failed to take over down the stretch, passing the ball to teammates instead.
I could have told you what would come next. Commentators claiming that James was more coward than king (again). Armchair psychoanalysts pondering whether James is too unselfish or too insecure at crunch time. A chorus of fans flooding James with criticism and "LeChoke" hashtags on Twitter.
The truth is, James will always be assailed in some quarters, regardless of how he performs. Part of that criticism stems from his ill-advised TV special, The Decision, in 2010. Part of it is due to the Heat's over-the-top introductory ceremony that summer, when James predicted "not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" NBA championships. And part if it is because James isn't Michael Jordan or even Kobe Bryant in terms of being a stone-cold killer on the court.
Sticking to basketball and leaving off-the-court issues where they belong — off the court — it doesn't make sense to criticize James for what he isn't. He plays nearly every minute of every game at multiple positions, filling in at power forward for Bosh on Tuesday. He's the team's best or second-best scorer, rebounder, passer and defender.
It's as if he wires the house, installs the plumbing, paints the walls, lays the carpet and buys the furniture, only to be harassed because he doesn't shingle roofs (or close games very well). The Heat might have 99 problems, but LeBron ain't one.
All of that is irrelevant, though. When Miami loses, folks will continue to play the blame game with James. When the team wins without him coming through in the clutch, he'll be mocked further. When the team wins and he dominates throughout the contest, credit will go to his teammates.
Such is life for the NBA's best player, at least for the foreseeable future. He might as well get used to it.