Why LeBron’s Lack of a Killer Mindset is so Frustrating

For those of us that never reached the tantalizing heights of “professional athlete,” watching sports is a vacation from every day life. Whatever problems that dog you during the day, whatever unfair situations life bestows upon you at seemingly breakneck speed, those tend to go away for the blissful two to four hours while watching true meritocracy play out on the athletic fields. Some of the best moments as a voyeur into this world happen when an athlete gets “in the zone.” Watching an athlete do things that you thought impossible for a human being to accomplish makes you immediately forget about your trials and tribulations. In those moments, everything is right within the world. More often than not, the only players capable of ascending to those heights are the best at their sports. Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI. Wayne Gretzky pretty much whenever. David Ortiz in the clutch. Michael Jordan in every NBA Finals ever. Those are are the players and those are the moments that stick with you because it gives you the sense that (Kevin Garnett) anything is possible. To achieve that type of greatness though, you need a killer mindset. You need to be practically allergic to the thought and presence of such a thing as losing. Losing must be tantamount to spiritual death. For LeBron James though, losing is just another part of basketball. These other players though practically refused to accept losing as even a possibility. It is that killer mindset that sets them apart and frustrates anybody that wants true, unyielding greatness from LeBron James.

LeBron has lost another finals. This one was quite possibly the most inevitable of his losses. It would be easy to give him a pass for dropping to 3-5 in the finals, but it was how he reacted after the loss that should forever bar him from entering any discussion about the best player ever. The killer mindset is completely lacking in LeBron. It was never more noticeable than after he walked off of the court as the Warriors celebrated.

Jerry Thornton is absolutely correct here. And what he is insinuating is why LeBron James frustrates so many people. If you watched him walking off the court here (head held high, a bounce in his step), you might mistake him for having won the NBA Finals, not for just getting demolished by a much better team. Usually if you are considered “one of the best players ever,” and get dismantled in five games and outplayed by your counterpart who grabbed the MVP trophy, you would feel embarrassed. LeBron is far from embarrassed and that is the exact problem.

LeBron played well during the finals. He actually played extremely well during the finals. However, whether because he was asked to do too much, or because he realized it was almost impossible to stop a locked-in Kevin Durant, James decided to not even try on defense. Yet, if you saw him and listened to him after the series was over, you would think he has nothing to be ashamed of.

Imagine Kobe… imagine Bird… imagine Jordan… losing in five games and carrying on afterwards as if it was just another game. You cannot because they would never do such a thing. They would be devastated. With all of his actions and claims to “never have been on a super team,” it is clear LeBron thinks he did everything he could during the series. Despite his claims about Tom Brady not being the best athlete ever “because he doesn’t play defense, doesn’t play both ways,” LeBron did nothing defensively this series to substantiate any claim that he too deserves to be in the discussion.

LeBron is a great basketball player. He is without a doubt the best basketball player of his generation. And yet… for people that understand the true goal of any sport is to win (and yes, that is the ultimate goal of any sport or contest), LeBron falls woefully short of a success. “But he has made the finals eight times!” Would you rather be the 1990’s Atlanta Braves or Dallas Cowboys. LeBron is content to be the Braves. He has tasted the mountaintop, but he can live without it. He is a basketball vampire; practically impossible to kill and with powers that do not seem real. Yet, he does not need to feast on human flesh and achieve his ultimate prowess, he is content to dine on the lesser animals and accept a reality where he is not the apex predator.

While watching LeBron it seems as if the people want more of him than he is willing to ask of himself. That is shameful. When somebody expects more of you than you do of yourself, it is a failure in your personal makeup. LeBron will go down as one of the best players in basketball history. But he will never be close to the mountaintop because there have been too few instances where he ascends to otherworldly heights. Too many times you can watch him play and realize he is not giving it his all.

When his career is over, and he in enshrined into the NBA Hall of Fame, many people will rejoice. But, there will be an even larger contingent that asks, “what if?” What if LeBron just wanted it more? What if he never relaxed on defense? What if he expected more of himself, if he expected the type of greatness others wanted him to achieve? For these reasons, despite all the accolades and success and wins, LeBron will never achieve what he could be.

Every so often he gets angry and adopts that killer mindset. He drives to the hoop and becomes unstoppable for quarters, halves, and sometimes even whole games. He gives us that glimpse of the type of basketball player that is literally and physically unstoppable. The type of basketball player all of his fans and fans of basketball want him to become. However, that is not who he is. LeBron does not have that killer mindset. And because he routinely falls short of that almost robotic avalanche of awesomeness, LeBron’s career will always fall short, and that is the truly frustrating part.