Basketball

John Clay: LeBron, Tiger find out how hard it is to be the best

LeBron James, left, and Dwyane Wade shared a laugh at a news conference Tuesday. "I had fun with this season," James said. "But, no, I won't have enough fun until I'll be able to hoist that trophy."
LeBron James, left, and Dwyane Wade shared a laugh at a news conference Tuesday. "I had fun with this season," James said. "But, no, I won't have enough fun until I'll be able to hoist that trophy." AP

It's not that easy, is it?

It's not that easy, LeBron.

It's not that easy, Tiger.

Just because you are chasing the best that ever was, just because, at one time, it looked as if you had a chance to catch the best that ever was, does not mean it's a guarantee that you will catch the best that ever was.

"There are NO SHORTCUTS. NONE," tweeted a gleeful Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert after his former player LeBron James and the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals on Sunday night.

The rub-it-in reaction might have spit sour grapes, but the message was spot-on.

There is a reason Michael Jordan is considered the best basketball player of all time after winning six NBA titles.

There is a reason Jack Nicklaus is considered the best golfer of all time after winning 18 major golf championships.

LeBron is still chasing his first. He slugged it out for seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He reached an NBA Finals. But he fell short, losing in the 2007 Finals, falling to Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals in 2009, to Boston in the 2010 semifinals. He grew impatient, so he took the exit ramp and hopped in a faster car with his friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the way to South Beach.

But relocating didn't bring a ring. The easy path gave way to persistence. The tortoise won the race.

Dirk Nowitzki had waited 13 years in Dallas. At age 38, Jason Kidd had waited 17 years in various NBA locales. Yet Sunday night, the marvelous Mavericks were the ones celebrating a real title in the same Miami area in which James, Wade and Bosh staged their fake signing celebration last summer.

I liked the pre-Decision LeBron. But there was something about the way James presented himself in leaving Cleveland and how he reacted afterward that was disconcerting. That self-proclaimed "King James" moniker felt different after that.

The clincher: James didn't even have the manners to inform the Cavaliers of his choice before he went on TV and told the world he was moving to Miami.

That wasn't who we thought LeBron to be.

The finals revealed a similar flaw. I saw the same thing most everyone else saw. I saw a far too deferential LeBron, far too passive, far too reluctant to make the big play.

That was never Tiger Woods' problem. He always went for it on the golf course, even if it was sometimes to his detriment. But after Tiger's 14 major titles, Tiger was derailed by a "Decision" of his own when it was brought into the harsh light.

This isn't to say that Tiger's philandering brought him down, as much as our reaction to it did. We no longer focused on Tiger the golfer as much as we did Tiger the person. He wasn't who we thought he was.

He seemed to lose his focus, as well. He's lost his way, his swing, and now even his robust health, and we're not totally sure he will get it back.

"I still think he'll break my record," Nicklaus said in March before the Masters.

But his aching knee and a sore Achilles' tendon is keeping Woods out of this weekend's U.S. Open for the first time since 1994. He hasn't won a golf tournament since 2009. He hasn't won a major since the U.S. Open in 2008.

The clock is ticking, but there's still time. Woods is 35, and Nicklaus won his last major at 46. James is 26, and Michael Jordan won his first NBA title when he was 28.

"This isn't the end of the road for me," LeBron said yesterday in the Heat's end-of-season interview session. "This isn't the end of the road for the Miami Heat."

He's right.

And maybe we shouldn't crucify LeBron or Tiger for their failings as much as we should applaud Michael and Jack for their achievements.

If it were easy, anyone could do it.

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