Would you believe me if I told you Nike predicted the single greatest meltdown in playoff history by a superstar in NBA history eight years ago?  During Lebron’s debut against the Sacramento Kings, Nike aired a television spot, which foreshadowed his play in the 2011 NBA Finals. The commercial featured Lebron receiving the ball at the top of the key, Lebron then puts the ball into a three-point stance before pausing at the top of the key.

His current Miami Heat teammate, Mike Bibby, defended Lebron in the ad, looks around in confusion and gets out of his defensive stance. Arco Arena goes silent and the onlookers begin to murmur about whether the 18-year old, #1 overall pick could handle the pressure placed on his shoulders.

For seven years, Lebron appeared to be the savior of Cleveland sports until he froze against the Boston Celtics during last season’s Conference Semifinals. Lebron’s defenders tend to point out Lebron’s triple double in Game 6 against Boston. However, his 8 for 19 shooting, 9 turnovers and inexplicably clumsy play defied all logic. Stat sheets don’t tell the whole story of that series. But I’ll try. Through the final three games of that series, Lebron shot 18 for 53 from the field, averaged 21 points per game and turned the ball over 19 times.

Everyone was in such a hurry to anoint Lebron the next Jordan, they lost perspective on what made Jordan great. It wasn’t his statistics otherwise Jerry West and Scottie Pippen would have been comparing Lebron to Wilt Chamberlain. It wasn’t just the championships. You can become a champion without playing like a champion. Jordan did both but he also had a knack for knocking down insanely difficult shots in crunchtime, routine shots when it counted and his clutch 4th quarter play.

The comparisons to Michael Jordan are dead for now and the punch lines are piling up like a Comedy Central Roast. For example, do you know how to know which cell phone is Lebron’s? It’s the one that always vibrates but never has a ring. The most popular one is some variation of Jason Whitlock running into Lebron at a snack machine and asking if he has change for a dollar. Unfortunately, Lebron only gives Whitlock $.75 cents because he doesn’t have a fourth quarter. I don’t find it funny because quite frankly, Whitlock camps out near the buffet spread but that’s beside the point.

At this critical stage in his career Lebron shares more in common with Alexander Ovechkin than Michael Jordan. Like Lebron, Ovechkin was considered among his sports elite. Lebron’s equal was believed to be Kobe Bryant. Ovechkin’s is Sidney Crosby. Like Ovechkin, Lebron is a two-time MVP that can’t win in the postseason.

In 2009, Crosby scored two goals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to eliminate Ovechkin and the Capitals. Ovechkin scored a goose egg. For two consecutive seasons, Ovechkin helped the Washington Capitals earn the Eastern Conference’s best record only to get eliminated before the Conference Finals.  Like Ovechkin, Lebron shrinks as the stakes increase. Kobe Bryant has won two championships in that span, while Crosby earned a Stanley Cup in 2009. Kobe, Crosby, Jordan and Gretzky elevated theirs.

More importantly, Lebron seems to have undergone a personality transplant. When Miami returns to their home court, Lebron will be a changed man since Game 2. Gone is the happy go lucky, high fiving superstar with a penchant for boisterous dunk faces. In his place is a quiet reserved and unsure jump shooter.

Lebron has continued to shrink since Gregg Doyle’s post-Game 3 shrinking question. It will be interesting to see how James adjusts to playing as a 6’5, 240 pound point, forward. Lebron tallied a triple double but being a great passer shouldn’t make him a passive scorer. With Dwyane Wade hobbled and missing extended time because of a left hip contusion, Lebron couldn’t take the wheel of Miami’s offense.

The culprit that sank the Heat? Lebron on the hardwood behind the arc with a Spalding basketball. In 14 fewer minutes, Wade scored 23 points to Lebron’s 17 and 8 assists to Lebron’s 10. Wade reached 23 points in 7 fewer shots. Lebron finished 0 for 4 behind the arc and shot two free throws. Lebron Ames has lose his J. Every single 4th quarter point he has scored in this series was the result of a layup or dunk. In contrast, Wade went 1 for 2 from downtown but more importantly, he shot 12 free throws.

Lebron’s collapse has been extremely bizarre. Tuesday night he erred by committing a charge on Jason Kidd at the top of the arc. Thursday night, 7-footer, Tyson Chandler threw a crucial charge in the lane. Offensively, Lebron played like he wanted no part of the dogfight. On the play where Wade injured his hip, Lebron threw the ball to Wade and jogged to the corner—as Wade drove with reckless abandon into the post.

In the 18th century, a commoner would have been beheaded for calling out the King. Dallas’ sixth man, Jason Terry called out Lebron’s defense before Game 4. In the two games since, Terry has scored 38 points. You could practically hear Lebron deflating after Jason Terry sank a heat check three from 30 feet.

Following Game 5, Lebron was asked again whether the pressure was getting to him. His answer to a question asking whether he was wilting under the pressure. Lebron replied that the pressure wasn’t getting to him and then unknowingly threw in the caveat—“I think”.

It wasn’t exactly reassuring. Kobe Bryant would have answered with an overly assertive display of bravado. Lebron lacks the same bluntness and perhaps the confidence to do so.

But let’s get back to the aforementioned eight-year old Nike commercial. About 50 seconds into the ad(apparently, Lebron even gets an exception from the shot clock), Lebron finally looks up into the camera, smiles, lets out what has become his signature roar and springs into action. For Lebron’s sake, let’s hope he wakes from his slumber and spring into action before this series is over. If not, he and Alexander Ovechkin can watch the NHL Finals together.

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