Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 2/27/12

90% of an All Star Game is meaningless.

For most of the game, nobody plays defense, everybody showboats, and the main goal is to put on a show.

But then there’s that 10%.  And boy can we learn some interesting things from that 10%.

LeBron James talks to Craig Sager after last night's All Star Game. (Screenshot via Black Sports Online)

Most importantly, we often get to see a player’s mental makeup.  We get clued in on who is the alpha dog in the group.

Here’s an example:

Who Is The Alpha Dog?

In the Young Guns game on Friday night, Jeremy Lin and Ricky Rubio started the game on the same team.  In such instances, I often wonder, “Who’s going to take the point?”  As a point guard, I know how much I personally covet the spot in the same circumstance.  It’s not like you necessarily want to dominate the game…but that position is YOURS and nobody else’s.

Ricky Rubio took over from step one, and Jeremy Lin was fine with it.  He comfortably drifted around the wings as Rubio ran the show.  For me, that said A LOT.  Rubio was the alpha dog, AND Jeremy Lin knew it.

The same thing happened in the All Star game last night.  For most of the 4th quarter, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul shared playing time.  And actually, Westbrook played GREAT…but Chris Paul was running the show, and Westbrook didn’t fight for it.

At this point in their respective careers, Westbrook deferred to Chris Paul.

That doesn’t mean that Chris Paul is necessarily the better player.  We know he’s not the better athlete or scorer.  But he IS the alpha dog…the player with the most mental toughness…the leader of the team, so to speak.

That’s why what happened at the end of the game was so interesting.

And also…before we get started, for anyone that says “This was just an All-Star game,” let me remind you that the entire tone of the game changed when Dwyane Wade LITERALLY broke Kobe Bryant’s nose from behind.

At that point…this game MEANT something.

True Colors of LeBron and Kobe Shine Through

For all of the LeBron haters out there, let’s just remember that his team was down 15 when he came into the game with 7 minutes left.

Let’s remember the 3 or 4 UNBELIEVABLE shots he hit to bring his team back into the game.

Let’s remember that Dwyane Wade dropped a laughably easy pass on a breakaway that would have given his team the first lead of the game.

Let’s also remember that Deron Williams nearly air-balled a wide open look that also would have given his team the lead.

BUT…

(And this is a big but…)

Once again, LeBron sprinted away from the moment at the end of the game.

TWICE.

AND…

(And this is a HUGE and…)

Kobe called him out on it.

Kobe Bryant punked out LeBron on national television, and LeBron stood there and took it like the little brother.

If you watch the final few minutes closely, a few things jump out at you.

1. Kobe switched over to guard LeBron at about the 2:00 mark.  Interestingly enough, LeBron took ZERO shots in the last two minutes.

Why is this a big deal?  Because anybody who watches the NBA knows that at this point, Kobe has absolutely no business guarding LeBron.  But there he was, taking up the challenge.  And not only was he picking him up, he was pressuring him out on the floor.

And as soon as Kobe stood up to LeBron…The Chosen One started deferring to everybody else.

And yes, LeBron lovers, I understand that Michael Jordan made passes to Paxson and Kerr at the end of games.  Simply taking the final shot doesn’t mean you made the right play.

But again, in an All-Star game, the most important things that we learn are about the mental makeup of players.  LeBron shrunk from the moment as soon as Kobe began guarding him.  Interesting.

2. Secondly, there’s the final two plays that everybody is talking about.

You have heard both angles:

  • LeBron’s fans blame Deron Williams for missing and Tom Thibedeau for making him pass the ball in.
  • LeBron’s haters say that LeBron should have shot the ball in both instances and this proves he’s not clutch.

But for me, the most telling thing about both plays is LeBron’s body language.

Watch him as soon as he passes to Deron Williams.  He stands there, motionless, basically announcing to the world that his job was done.

“Look, everyone.  I made a good pass!  It’s on you now, Deron.”

Bad Basketball.  Cowardly.  Not Clutch.  It was all of those things.

Do you remember in 1998 against the Pacers in Game 7 when Jordan couldn’t shoot the ball, so he began attacking the basket at will in order to get to the free throw line?  No matter what it took…Jordan was winning that game.

The same thing happened in Game 7 of the NBA Finals two years ago with Kobe.  He was a dreadful 6 for 24, but he found other ways to win.  He grabbed offensive rebounds, and no matter what would not let his team lose.

Do you think Jordan or Kobe would have chilled near half-court while a three-pointer was headed to the basket with 7 seconds left while his team was trailing?

Not in your life.

But THEN!!!!

The East got the rebound, and Deron Williams frantically got the ball to LeBron as fast as he could.

Here is his moment. The play that the coach called didn’t work. Now it’s time for the great ones to improvise.

6 seconds.  Down only two.  All the options were in play.  He had a one on one with his biggest rival.

And he made a pass that junior highers know is stupid.

But again, watch LeBron’s body language.  He dribbled away from the basket.  He lazily made a one-handed baseball pass all the way across the court.  When it was intercepted, he stood there…defeated.

3. And FINALLY…(and this is a massive finally)…there was the Kobe Jedi Mind Trick.

When LeBron got the ball back from Deron Williams, the whole world saw Kobe get into his grill.  He was talking to him.  Shouting something.  It looked as if he was daring him to shoot the ball.  (Come to find out, that’s EXACTLY what was going on).

LeBron shrunk.  He turned the ball over.  AND KOBE LET HIM HEAR IT.

Kobe Bryant gives LeBron James a piece of his mind after James declined to shoot in the final seconds of Sunday night's All-Star Game in Orlando. (Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel via Cleveland.com)

He stood there, defiantly yelling in The Chosen One’s face.  ”COME ON MAN!!!!  YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE BEST!!!  YOU HAVE TO WANT THAT SHOT!!!  HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PASS IN THAT SITUATION!?!?”

LeBron stood there like a whipped puppy…and took his beating from his master.

Blake missed.  Blake made.  The East still had a shot.

As LeBron walked out onto the court, Jedi Master Kobe met him.  But LeBron kept walking…across the court…all the way to the sideline.  And Kobe couldn’t believe it.

The mind tricks started again.  ”ARE YOU SERIOUS?  YOU’RE PASSING IT UP AGAIN?  YOU DON’T WANT THIS SHOT?  COME ON MAN!!!!  I WANT YOU TO TAKE THE SHOT!!! THE WHOLE WORLD WANTS YOU TO TAKE THE SHOT!!!  WHY ARE YOU STILL WALKING?!?!?”

It was almost sad, really.

Kobe, the ultimate competitor, just wanted LeBron to take the chance.  Really, he just wanted LeBron to WANT the chance.  And he refused.

It wasn’t just that LeBron passed on the opportunity…it was the fact that Kobe knew he would and fearlessly called him out on it.

It was very Jordanesque really.

I haven’t seen a mind trick like that since Jordan made fun of Drexler SO MUCH during Dream Team practice that Clyde actually showed up with two left shoes to practice one day and chose to play in them because he didn’t want Jordan to make fun of him for it.

Kobe was STILL the alpha dog.  Durant, CP3, Wade, and others were fighting for it.  LeBron was just the ref. He threw the ball into the air for everyone else to fight over it. He took himself out of the game.

What Does This Say About LeBron?

Now whether or not you agree with my retelling of the story, let me just ask you this one question:

Would anybody ever have DARED to talk to Jordan like that?  Or Kobe?  Or Bird?

Good grief…would anybody have ever DARED to talk to Reggie Miller like that?

Have you ever seen a player this great in ANY sport that is SO DISRESPECTED by his peers?

Did DeShawn Stevenson make a shirt for Kobe after whipping them in the playoffs?

No….

And that’s the largest NO of all.

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