It crushed Tiger Woods. Serena Williams rejected it. Peyton Manning only wears it when it suits his needs. Alex Rodriguez had it stripped from his head by performance-enhancing drugs. A rape allegation dethroned Kobe Bryant.
Michael Jordan is our last global sports icon, and even he couldn’t bear the weight of the crown in this era. Neither could Muhammad Ali, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth or Joe Montana.
LeBron James had no idea what he was signing up for when he accepted the nickname “King James,” tatted “Chosen One” across his back and teamed with Nike in pursuit of global-icon status.
There was no Facebook or Twitter when this all began. James had probably never heard of Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Cellphones didn’t double as cameras and devices to watch, send and receive porn. Hardcore sports fans weren’t in their parents’ basements dreaming of inventing Deadspin.
You want to understand LeBron James and why he is struggling in this moment, in these NBA Finals, despite Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh helping him with his crown? You must first understand the time we live in.
The crown is too heavy now.
It’s weighed down by the infinite voices with access to an athlete’s mind. It’s weighed down by our outdated insistence on viewing athletes as role models while scrutinizing their personal lives the way we would a politician. It’s weighed down by technology, the 24-hour news cycle, reality TV and the sports world’s embrace of celebrity culture.
The mountain LeBron James is trying to scale is much higher than the one Jordan, Ali and Ruth climbed.
Is James shrinking? No. He’s getting crushed.
In the self-described biggest game of his life — Game 5 of the NBA Finals — James recorded a harmless triple-double and a harmful, 2-point fourth quarter on a night when, because of Wade’s hip injury, the Heat needed James to perform Magic.
I’m talking Magic Johnson, the 1980 rookie who opened for Kareem at center and dropped 42, 15 and seven on the Sixers in Game 6.
In Dallas’ 112-103 victory Thursday night, James finished with 17, 10 and 10. Good numbers. Not enough. And not what Miami needed with Wade spending considerable stretches trapped in the training room receiving treatment on a hip contusion.
Of James’ 10 rebounds, only one was offensive. He missed all four of his three-point shots. He made a single trip to the free-throw line. He turned the ball over a game-high four times. On the offensive end, he left the low block in the fourth. At the defensive end, Jason Terry torched James.
James said he’s not bothered by the pressure of the Finals, of the fourth quarter. He’s in denial.
“We as a team, we played good enough to win again,” he said. “Put ourselves in position to win down the stretch. Everyone, guys made plays. They just made a few more than we did. That’s what it came down to.”
The final score says the Heat did not play good enough to win. Dallas closed the game on a 15-2 run. Miami’s penchant for late-game collapses and James’ penchant for fourth-quarter offensive disappearance in this series indicates there’s a problem.
“I don’t think it was a case of offense again tonight,” James said. “There was enough offensive play. We shot 52 percent. They shot 56 percent. We scored 103 points. They scored 112. The offense wasn’t a problem.”
It’s true: Defense wins championships. This is also true: Sometimes your best defense is a good offense.
In a single-platoon sport like basketball, when you’re blessed with unprecedented talent, you can beat up and demoralize an opponent so badly on the offensive end that you destroy his confidence on both ends of the court.
Dropping 40 on someone is intimidating and distracting.
Chris Bosh is a different player in this series compared to the Chicago series because Dirk Nowitzki is inside his head. Bosh has yet to clear his brain of Dirk’s left-handed game-winner in Game 2. It’s scary playing against someone better than you.
Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion are not afraid of LeBron. They don’t respect his moves on the block. They’re thrilled James is shying away from driving the ball and challenging Tyson Chandler at the rim.
James is lost.
The Decision and this marvelous NBA season vaulted him to global-icon status. Thanks to America’s fascination with James, the anticipation for Game 5 felt like an NFL playoff game. King James is must-see TV.
We shouldn’t be surprised he’s having trouble handling the moment. There was no Skip Bayless sitting on TV dissecting Jordan daily. There was no Stephen A. Smith going on national radio insinuating problems in Jordan’s personal life. Jordan never tweeted or gave millions of detractors easy access to rip him.
Jordan was prepared to wear the crown by two parents and Dean Smith.
It’s a different era now. The crown is too heavy and many of the kids haven’t been given instructions on how to wear it.