HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The next time — and surely there will be a next time — LeBron James gets to the NBA Finals, would he be better served getting a gentle pat on the back or the Heimlich Maneuver?
To choke or not to choke: that is the question.
Actually, the question that’s been percolating throughout the basketball world ever since King James repeatedly sank in the fourth quarter moat against the Mavericks is: Did he choke?
In an illuminating piece by Eric Adelson at Yahoo.com, sports psychologist Hap Davis has a biological explanation of what happened to James and a tip on what he can do about it:
In fact, whenever athletes start thinking about the pride or pain of winning or losing, they can become overwhelmed with emotion and unable to perform the basic duties of playing in the present.
“The moment someone thinks about the reward,” Davis says, “they are in a whole different space.”
So you see the brilliance of what Dirk Nowitzki did in Game 6. He held his emotions back until the second the game ended and the title was won. Then he hustled to the locker room to cry. He was completely unemotional and then he was completely emotional. It was the opposite of what so-called “chokers” do.
So what’s the best way to overcome this? How can LeBron James turn back into the fourth-quarter beast he used to be? Move on and forget the 2011 NBA Finals ever happened?
Nope. Davis says the best way to erase the past is to dwell on it. Watch the failure again and again and again on tape until it evokes zero emotional response. Watch the disaster until you’re so numb to it that it feels like someone else is doing the failing.
“I’ve worked with too many athletes who say, ‘Screw it, it’s a bad game,’ ” Davis says. “Some people will get away with ‘Forget about it.’ But most athletes will find that’s a bad idea. They haven’t got past the emotional experience.”
There is certainly a vast difference between the failures of legendary sports goats as Bill Buckner, Scott Norwood and Nick Anderson and what befell James. In the cases of a ground ball rolling through the legs, a field goal pushed wide right or four missed free throws in the space of a few seconds, those are singular errors — a momentary lapse of the motor skills that have driven an athlete to the top of his profession. The crumbling of LeBron late in games all through the six-game series with Dallas was a drama that unfolded repeatedly and as if in slow-motion.
Of course, James only seemed to make matters worse with his condescending postgame remarks in which he said: “All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they got to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problem they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want do with me and my family and be happy with that.”
Our main man in Miami Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com says that James was backing down from that statement on Tuesday and claims his meaning was misinterpreted:
“Basically I was saying at the end of the day this season is over and — with all hatred – everyone else has to move on with their lives, good or bad. I do too,” James said.
“It wasn’t saying I’m superior or better than anyone else, any man or woman on this planet, I’m not. I would never ever look at myself bigger than anyone who watched our game. It may have come off wrong but that wasn’t my intent.”
One step forward and two steps back.
It is a continuation of what we have seen from James through eight NBA seasons, alternately powerful and petulant, defiant and contrite, one moment hammering home a slam dunk and the next nervously biting his nails.
So now, in addition to time in the gym working on low post moves and learning to make mid-range jumpers, perhaps another summertime task for LeBron is to patch that hole in his psyche by reliving the painful memory on video, frame-by-frame until it doesn’t mean anything.
Somebody pass the popcorn. We’re gonna need a big bowl.