The Reason LeBron James Lacks The ‘Clutch’ Gene

Basketball, Bull City — By on February 13, 2012 at 3:00 am


Whether you’re trying to solve a tough problem, handle a critical situation, write an essay or have deliberate but inspired sex with a partner, creative thinking is crucial. The process boils down to changing your perspective and seeing things differently than you currently do.

Earlier last week, I witnessed Duke freshman Austin Rivers perform an act against the North Carolina Tar Heels that I haven’t seen from many freshmen over the past few years. In fact, when I watched the replay of the Rivers’ shot, one thing stood out to me. He didn’t even seem that fazed that he had just knocked down the biggest shot in the biggest game of his career to date. In fact, he looked like it was something that he has done his entire life.

Rivers entered that zone that few players enter in big game situations. He was making all the right passes and all the right plays when he needed to. He had a look on his face that you can’t really compare to anything, but you just see the confidence exuding, because he has been in that situation more times than he can probably count.

This brings me to LeBron James. James is, without a doubt, the best basketball player on the planet. That, in essence, is part of the problem. Since James began playing basketball, he has been different than any other player or star that has played the game before him. See, James is a big that can play like a small, so he has never had to have anyone get him the ball to get his, and he has always commanded control of the game.

In fact, you could argue that James has been at least twenty points better than any of the competition he has faced his entire life. Whether it be pick up ball or school ball, James never really played in a lot of close games. You can bet he hasn’t played many pickup games to ten (where the score was nine to nine) growing up and someone had to take the big shot.

James’s dominance is his own worst enemy. Look at the superstars around the league and even those who came before him. Michael Jordan got cut from his high school team, Magic Johnson had to overcome not being a great shooter, Larry Bird had to overcome his lack of ball-handling, and big guys like Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had to have other guys get them the ball to be big-time players. In fact, all great players face adversity at some point in their careers, but James didn’t have to face it until recently.

When you browse the league looking at players who are clutch, you can say that gene probably evolved at a young age. Kobe Bryant was always younger than everyone else he played against, and he spent time in other countries, so he had to learn to be clutch at a young age. Dwayne Wade grew up in the streets of Chicago; I really don’t need to say much more about that. Guys like Kevin Durant have had to overcome their lack of size and strength to be clutch and, because they all played for teams that weren’t as dominant as James’s teams were as youth and in college, they were faced with having to take big shot after big shot.

The fact is this: James hasn’t had to enter the “clutch zone,” so he doesn’t know how to handle it consistently. What James needs to do is just do what he’s always done and remain dominant. There is no need for him to step outside of himself and try to be something that he is not. He doesn’t need an alter ego or a nickname. All he needs to do is play hard.

People like to say that James can’t “step outside of the box and enter that clutch zone,” which is the wrong way to look at it. Just like Neo needed to understand that “there is no spoon” in the film The Matrix, James needs to realize “there is no box” to step outside of. Everything he needs is indeed inside of him; he just has to learn how to get in touch with it.

Stay Breezy ~ I’m Out!

Joe Simmons

Color Commentator for Time Warner Cable Sports Network NC/SC/OH and NCCU Sports Network. Washed up athlete who used to ball, now I write and call.

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    10 Comments

  • This actually makes sense, in theory. LBJ has been dominant at every level that he’s competed in and as a result, things have come very easily for him on the basketball court. But if basketball is a metaphor for life, then we know that not everything comes easy. Sometimes, things do get difficult and you have to adjust accordingly. Fight or flight.
    That’s what being “clutch” is all about. You’re going to fight and do whatever it takes to get the win but more importantly, you’re unafraid to lose. You’re unafraid to fail. You’er unafraid to carry the weight of not delivering on your shoulders. I think this is the bigger issue with Bron. It takes balls to be a cluth player. It takes balls to say, “Don’t worry, I got this” and then go out and deliver ir at least not be afraid to try. Truly clutch players “want” that moment. That’s what they live for.
    But Bron doesn’t have that, and I guess that’s OK if you don’t consider it a big deal. And I guess that doesn’t stop him from being the best player in the League, either. But for me, given all of his variables (size, strength, athleticism), for him to be lacking in that area is a black mark. It’s fun to flex and scream when you’re dunking on people but when the moment is biggest and the pressure is at its highest, you shrink? Well, that makes you a phony in a my book and I can’t rock with you like that.

  • DNKB says:

    *slow clap* Thank you Joe for saying what I’ve been saying almost since Lebron joined the Heat. The fact that he was always the star on a mediocre team that built around him put him in a position where he didn’t have to learn how to do certain things. While this situation obviously helped him get attention that got him in the league it doesn’t help him now that he is actually on a balanced team (talent wise).

    I’ve said for awhile that Lebron doesn’t have a “thing” to contribute to a team like Ray Ray and his 3 pointers or long range field goals, Robert Horry and his 6th man field goal shots, Rondo’s scrapping for the ball to make plays and whatever Rose was able to do to turn the team of one of the greatest players of all time into his own catapulting it into a new era of success. To me Lebron is great but I can’t as a causal watcher of the game think of a “thing” that only Lebron can bring to a team. He’s just really good; which works great for terrible teams to make them mediocre a la his high school team and Cleveland but doesn’t work so well for good and great teams like Miami.

  • I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t cut it for me. It’s making excuses for why he hasn’t come through in the clutch as often as people expect him to. You’re telling me LeBron James never had any close games in his life prior to getting to the NBA? Really? I’m not buying that. And even if he did, it’s not like the other great players weren’t dominant beings that didn’t need help getting their shots. That’s the same for every superstar at the high school level.

    He’s been in the league for a long time now and has gone through the wars. The fact that he is the best player in the world means he has to start doing those things that the best players in the world before him did when it matters most. He did that in Cleveland as he singlehandedly took the Cavs to the Finals. He did that at times last postseason, in the games when everyone wasn’t talking about his fourth quarters.

    It’s not about being so dominant all your life that you never had to be clutch. That’s nonsense. He had the weight of the world on his shoulders as a high-schoolers, then even more pressure when he entered the NBA, and he answered the bell both times. Then it stopped being the norm after the Spurs laid waste him in the Finals and he’s struggled to find that clutch gene since. That’s how I view it. Saying he’s sooooooo good and soooo dominant that he’s never had to be clutch sounds like a cop-out to me.

    • *nods head in agreement with The Rev*

      The fact that we saw this man repeatedly be “clutch” and take games over in Cleveland has somehow been forgotten. Even in his last game with the Cavs he put up damn near a quadruple-double. In Miami, its admittedly been awkward, but Bron’s trying to assimilate to a new team and players. Yeah he’s struggled, but the last year and a half can’t erase what he did for the previous 6-7 years.

      • Joe Simmons says:

        Fellas you guys are funny as all get out. What does the opening paragraph say:
        “Whether you’re trying to solve a tough problem, handle a critical situation, write an essay or have deliberate but inspired sex with a partner, creative thinking is crucial. The process boils down to changing your perspective and seeing things differently than you currently do.”
        I am offering an idea outside of the box. I concluded by saying that he didn’t need to change his ways but let his play change the way people view him.

  • JAG says:

    Interesting analysis.

    It helps to have early success in the clutch. MJ hit the winning shot for the National Championship as a Tar Heel Freshman. Then he hit the famous shot over Craig Ehlo when the Bulls started their ascention. Due to that, he’s never had to worry about the choke label, no matter how many times he missed. Having a rep allows you to relax and have confidence, whether at work, in social situations, etc.

    Russell and Cousy got that rep while West and Wilt spent most of their careers fighting the choke label. The longer it hangs on you, the more you can’t help but wonder if it’s true.

    LeBron needs that one big win to get the monkey off his back. After that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the floodgates open. But, will he get that first one??

  • DNKB says:

    I just have to say…having a close game and being reliable constantly in close game/clutch situations are two different things.

    Has Lebron taken a last second short or two to win or lose a game…yes. If you had to choose between Lebron and another star NBA player to make a similar shot for example D. Wade to make that shot would you choose Lebron? i wouldn’t but looking to the comments maybe some of you would – that’s your choice. Me? I’d choose a 6th man that’s good on the outside over Lebron. Doesn’t make for great ESPN but the probably of winning the game is higher (for me).

    Lastly, Lebron being good or bad is not being argued in Joe’s post. What is being argued is that Lebron is not the guy you want to go to with less than 10 seconds to go to make a game winning shot a la Duke in the Final Four. And that note…I concur with the gentleman from North Carolina.

  • Mark says:

    I see your point. I have said this before that Lebron has never had a short coming or failure in basketball to overcome because of the reasons you stated. I played point guard in high school, AAU, and college and I have always been one of or the smallest guy on the court. Because of my short comings physically, I had to resort to quickness, toughness, intensity, work ethic, and other character building exercises that help me develop a certain mentality for clutch game situations. Lebron has always been the best and most gifted athlete when he stepped on the floor so maybe he hasn’t had to develop some of those traits. I must disagree with you on the whole Lebron in the clutch myth that was started by Skip Bayless on ESPN. It always amazes me how one man with no athletic pedigree but with a clever republican-like arguing style has turned one of the most gifted athletes of a generation into a “failure” and athlete who can’t do what he is suppose to do (Tebow) into a HOF. If you look at lebron’s numbers when he was in cleveland, you will see that this whole lebron isn’t clutch myth is nothing but a creation in the mind of a shock jock sports writer/commentator who’s only relevance in life is to ignore facts of Lebron’s successes and exponentially emphasize his failures.

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