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Randy Hollis: LeBron missing the heart of a champion

Published: Saturday, June 11 2011 7:37 p.m. MDT

Perhaps now, more than ever before, we're seeing why LeBron James made "The Decision."

Now it's becoming clear why he chose to dump on his hometown team, jumping ship in favor of joining forces with a couple of other top-level NBA stars in his quest for an NBA championship.

Yes, deep down inside, maybe he knew that he couldn't get it done when it matters most — under pressure.

Don't get me wrong. LeBron James is an absolutely amazing basketball player, a tremendously gifted athlete who has the size and strength of Karl Malone combined with the agility, quickness and all-around ability of Scottie Pippen.

It's a very rare combination indeed.

But it seems he's missing one very vital ingredient — that intense, all-consuming competitive desire to win, which pushes an athlete to rise to the occasion when the game's on the line and the spotlight is burning its brightest.

It's a quality that has set apart all of the game's greatest players.

Former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich called it "the heart of a champion."

Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant all certainly had it. They each had that unique quality wherein they could take over a game and do whatever was necessary to win.

After watching LeBron's fourth-quarter disappearing act in this year's NBA Finals, you can't help but wonder if King James is missing something else besides those jump shots he keeps clanking off the rim.

Yes, as great as he is, it appears LeBron is lacking that nasty killer instinct that made those other guys above so great.

He knew that, without a better supporting cast, he'd never win an NBA title in Cleveland. So he took his talents to South Beach, where he could team up with fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh because, as broad as LeBron's shoulders might be, maybe he was well aware he couldn't handle the load — or the pressure — without a lot of help.

Sure enough, after saying that Game 5 was the biggest one of his life, he went out and put up a triple-double.

But he again wilted down the stretch, scoring just two fourth-quarter points while the less-talented but much more gritty Dallas Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki — the greatest thing to come out of Germany since the Volkswagen — staged another impressive rally to win and take a 3-2 lead over Miami in the best-of-seven series.

As disappointing as some of LeBron's performances have been in these Finals, Dirk's clutch play has been truly tremendous as he tries to lead the Mavs to their first NBA championship in franchise history.

Through the first five games of the Finals, Nowitzki has scored 52 fourth-quarter points — an average of 10.4 points per game in the final period. Dirk has made 13-of-27 shots from the field in the fourth quarter, when he is a perfectly impressive 24-of-24 from the foul line.

Hey, how's that for being downright clutch when it counts?

And LeBron? Well, he's scored just 11 fourth-quarter points in those five games, a paltry 2.2 ppg for a guy who's supposed to be one of the game's all-time greats. He's made just 4-of-16 shots and 3-of-3 free throws.

What's more, when the score of the game is within five points in the final five minutes, Dirk has outscored LeBron by an amazing 26-0 margin.

Now, this isn't just a matchup between Dirk and LeBron; no, it's much more than that.

But the Heat, a team featuring two superstars in James and Wade and a third superstar wannabe in Bosh, is getting beat by a Dallas team with just one true star, Nowitzki, and a bunch of solid role players who are doing their job spectacularly.

James and the Heat return home for a must-win Game 6 tonight. LeBron gets another chance to establish his legacy as one of the game's all-time greats, to show that the "Chosen 1" tattoo across his back is more than just body-art ink.

He has an opportunity to step up, to prove all those critics wrong if he can help the Heat come back from that discouraging 3-2 deficit and win two do-or-die games to claim the crown.

But up until now, Nowitzki has indeed displayed "the heart of a champion."

And James, much to the dismay of his fans and the city of Miami, has definitely not.

email: rhollis@desnews.com

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