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Everybody wins blame game (except LeBron) when we judge before action

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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What's wrong? LeBron makes the right play, the play M.J. might have made, and he's vilified. (Getty Images)  
What's wrong? LeBron makes the right play, the play M.J. might have made, and he's vilified. (Getty Images)  

LeBron James did not take the final shot in Miami's loss to Indiana on Tuesday night, proving yet again that he is a horrible player and human being, soulless, spineless and gutless.

There. Did we cover it? Yeah, I guess we did.

But then I hearken back to Michael Jordan and John Paxson a hundred years ago, and wonder how history might have viewed that exchange had Paxson missed. More to the point, I wonder when in basketball history a missed open shot became worth more than a contested one.

And then the answer hit me. When it became more important for "the star to be the star" than "first, win the game, then worry about reputations." I'm not sure what year this happened, but I think it was a Thursday.

This fascinating development in basketball history, though, is now considered a matter of doctrine. James has to take the shot not because it is necessarily the best chance to win the game, but because we've spent so much time talking about him over the years. James has to take the poorer shot because he is James, and this isn't about winning, it's about who gets the credit before the fact.

Back of the cart, meet front of the horse.

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I mean, if Mario Chalmers makes the shot that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra believed was the best option given the way the game was going and the way Indiana would most likely assemble its defense, is James actually a hero for doing what he is asked by his coach? And if he is a hero, doesn't this mean that the pass was actually a good idea when it presented itself? And if that is so, why is it James' fault that Chalmers missed? Is James supposed to know when he sees the wide-open Chalmers that Chalmers will miss two seconds later? Is he supposed to be clairvoyant as well as everything else?

And if he ignores Chalmers and takes a shot while defended, isn't he being pigheaded and selfish at the moment he has the idea to shoot? Is that greatness manifesting itself, or just us trying to decide who should get the credit or blame before we even know the result of the event? Do we honestly follow that logic?

Apparently, many of us do. James is being crushed again for not wanting the moment as though he has the sax solo and decides on his own that the bass player doesn't get enough face time. The reputation of the instrumentalist taking precedence over the music made.

But basketball is and always has been about the open man, the best open man available, for the best shot available. It has never been about the "You get the shot no matter whether it's good or bad, because you're you." Sometimes, like it or not, the bass player is the best option for a few bars.

And sometimes the arranger (the coach) is in charge of how the music should be made given the conditions in the room. Except for James, who should defy his coach, contravene decades of basketball theory and "be the man" because we have decided that basketball isn't about a team seeking a result, but delegating blame.

This, ultimately, is not about LeBron James at all, but how we choose to perceive the meaning of the game. The wins and losses don't matter as much as how to frame the next day's debate. This isn't wins and losses, it's heroes and villains. And it's anal-cranial inversion at its worst.

Under ideal conditions, James is the Heat's best option, unless it's Dwyane Wade. But they were both guarded well on the final play, because the Pacers are not stupid, and they are not mannequins, and they are not sneakered lumps of inertia. They have some say in this, too. They made the play they wanted to make, the Heat made the play they wanted based on knowing what the Pacers wanted, and Chalmers missed a shot after being given a pass by LeBron James.

Humans being humans -- the reason why the end of a close game is worth watching.

Instead, we're putting the backstory first because we think that's what the game is about -- the postgame talking points. And unless you are willing to stipulate that James is everything and Mario Chalmers is nothing, there are gradations in that moment, in that playing relationship, when an open Chalmers is worth more than a guarded and single-minded James.

And this would have been that moment if Chalmers had made the shot ... which James again could not possibly have known at the time he was doing what his coach had drawn up and what the Pacers presented defensively.

Oh, well, you got what you wanted anyway. Narrative takes a 2-0 series lead over Reality, with the series moving to Indiana for more doctrinaire prejudgments and hindsight finger-points Thursday and Sunday. Be there, or don't be there. Makes no difference. You've made up your minds already no matter how it plays out.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com).

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