Pressure can bust pipes or make diamonds. In today's sports world, those are the only two options the masses will accept. People want to see greatness happen or the downfall of the superstar. There's so much coverage these days, those are the only things that stand out. LeBron James knows this all too well.
Right now, the biggest pressure cooker going is the NBA Finals. James is in the middle of it, and has been the center of attention for his entire adult life. The past year has really tried James' personal determination and fortitude. After his "Decision" to "take his talents to South Beach" last July, he became public enemy No. 1 in the sports world. Since then, he's been out to gain the respect and acclaim his talents deserve. And that's accomplished by winning an NBA title.
Too often in James' career he's been directly compared to Michael Jordan, the man with six rings. "Jordan would have never teamed up with another superstar," is the stale comment that's been recycled by hundreds of fans. It's been Jordan this and Jordan that whenever LeBron's name comes up, and that's not right. People want to compare him to Jordan for their own selfish reasons. James is not Jordan, and he's not going to be.
The comparisons start because James is the only one with the skills and talent to surpass Jordan. But different things drive them. Attitudes are different. They're not playing in the same era. The media is astronomically bigger now than during Jordan's day. The internet was just getting off the ground floor when Jordan was winning three-peats. Today, every comment uttered by James is discussed by millions on Twitter.
Thursday night's Game 5 of the NBA Finals featured what separates James and Jordan. It's the killer instinct. Arguably, Jordan wanted it more than anyone ever to play the game, a point backed up with six championships. He took over games offensively in a way that deflated and destroyed his opponent. The lowest point total in Jordan's 35 Finals games was 22.
LeBron doesn't have the desire or drive to simply take over a game, get a bucket when his team has to have one, and take the win. He doesn't score at will like Jordan did. And that's what separates the two. Kobe Bryant is the closest we've seen to Jordan, in terms of a killer instinct.
After coming off a dreadful 8-point performance in Game 4's loss, the entire world watched Thursday night to see how LeBron would respond. The pressure had built to incredible levels. Everyone wanted to see the diamond emerge or the pipe burst. James responded with a triple double (17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists), but not one person was satisfied with the performance, which resulted in a loss, placing Dallas one win from its first NBA title.
James showed no desire to finish at the basket and take over offensively when Miami desperately need him to. Dwyane Wade, his teammate who normally does this, was sidelined for part of the game with a hip injury. The stage was set brilliantly for LeBron to rise above the pressure, show the world his abilities, and prove to all the doubters that he is indeed "King" James. But it didn't happen. And it's not the first time. He couldn't rise to the challenge last year against Boston, when playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers either.
The "refuse to lose" attitude is what fans and haters are looking for, that killer instinct and drive. His abilities and talents suggest he could win multiple rings, and maybe even be considered better than Jordan someday. We're all waiting for him to decide to become the player that we want him to be. The player who turns pressure into a meal, who rises up to its challenges, and wins based on his will and talent.
Like Jordan did. He still has time to do it this year. We're waiting....