Last night, Mr. James found Donnie Haslem for an open jumper for the win. He passed the ball because he was double-teamed and Haslem was reasonably open for a mid-range jumper, a shot he often makes. That this event occurred was reason enough, in the LeBron James Media Echo Chamber, for opining and analyzing.
Mr. James’s Twitter account and press conference after the game alternately whimpers and howls that he understands his place in basketball culture. Mr. James’s realization that what he is currently doing late in games is generally unpalatable to fans, media, and even other players like Josh Howard (an interesting person who nevertheless disingenuously said after the game: “I guess [Mr. James] felt there was too much pressure on him”) is absolutely enough to make him change his late-game strategy to force more shots.
He continues to make the sound basketball play, however, as if he senses that not to do so is to pass on a responsibility he has to Basketball. So many pundits, fans, and players refer to basketball as “the game,” as in “respect for the game,” or “the game is unforgiving,” or “the game gave me everything.” In this context, LeBron is doing what he thinks is best for Basketball-with-a-capital-B. There exist forces that claim that the best thing for Basketball is for Mr. James to shoot late no matter what; he thinks otherwise; thus he ignores the pressure to shoot and instead passes to open men. If we’re going to frame so much of the discussion of basketball in religious terms, we might as well say it: Mr. James (Ayatollah James? Dalai Lama Lebron James? Reverend James?) is a Holy Warrior, and he fights for his Basketball beliefs. Those he’s fighting also follow Basketball, but they interpret the faith differently. They think that at times the very best players should take bad shots on purpose; Mr. James’s purer faith holds that it’s heretical to believe that a bad shot can become a good shot by virtue of its coming late in the game.
Mr. James may be wrong, and fans and pundits thus may be doing the right thing in trying to convince him of their side. But these people are doing the wrong thing in inflicting violence on him—and what are they doing but trying to hurt him?—to do the convincing. It seems clear based on the evidence (Donyell Marshall, Udonis Haslem and all the rest of the examples) that Mr. James’s belief is legitimate and pure. It seems obvious then, that the desire to persuade him to the other side should be motivated by healthy respect (“Mr. James, please listen to the arguments holding that bad shots can become good shots…”) rather than the desire for bloodlust.
And yet the bloodlust remains, perhaps because the Bad Shotters’ doctrine is faulty, and they have no choice but to play dirty by cutting him to ribbons with safety scissors.