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Taking a pass

Sports | LeBron James has no choice but to be measured in final moments

Issue: "The battle," March 24, 2012

In Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James flashed to the top of the circle, collected an in-bounds pass, and rattled in a game-winning 3-pointer as the final buzzer sounded. In clutch moments since, the most talented basketball player in the world has proven far less impressive. James wilted in the decisive Game 6 of the 2009 series as his team was eliminated. In Game 6 of last year's NBA Finals, he touched the ball on only nine of 23 fourth-quarter possessions as his new team the Miami Heat fell short of a championship.

And then this year, the bizarre events of February's All-Star Game, when James repeatedly passed on opportunities to take big shots despite the taunts and dares of Kobe Bryant, raised again what has become a recurring question: Is LeBron James afraid of late-game pressure? In Miami's second game after the all-star break, he seemed to answer, passing the ball to teammate Udonis Haslem for a last-second shot rather than take the shot himself. Haslem missed. Miami lost. And criticism raged.

Is such criticism warranted? James had 35 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, and no turnovers in the loss, the kind of numbers he has posted routinely in what many assume will be an MVP season. He led his team back from an 18-point deficit to provide the opportunity for a game-winning shot. Yet James knew the moment Haslem missed that he would face fire. "I was just trying to make the right play," he told reporters afterward. For any merely good player, the decision to pass would have been right. Trouble is, James being merely good will never be good enough.

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Great players don't make right plays. They make winning ones. They take shots that violate every principle of prudence, and sometimes even miss them. But they keep shooting, without fear. They know who they are. They know their role. They know they are great. James doesn't know that yet.

Sundown showdown

The boys' basketball team at Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school in Houston, faced potential forfeit of a semifinal game in the state playoffs because it was scheduled after sundown on Friday, March 2. The school observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. But a lawsuit filed by Beren Academy parents and students pressured the tournament's organizing body into a schedule change. The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools moved Friday's game to earlier in the afternoon. And when Beren Academy won that contest, TAPPS pushed Saturday's final past sundown to 8 p.m. Beren Academy lost the title game 46-42 to Abilene Christian, but celebrated the victory for religious accommodation. Such flexibility may become the unwritten rule for Texas private schools. A year ago, the Texas Christian Athletic Association bumped its 2A state championship game to Saturday night to accommodate the Texas Torah Institute of Dallas. -Mark Bergin

Braun's brawn

Associated Press photo by Paul Connors

Did Ryan Braun cheat? The public may never know for sure. But that hardly matters. Fans at opposing ballparks have made up their minds, castigating the Brewers' left fielder with chants of "urine sample" during spring training. The cat calls are in reference to a test Braun underwent late last year that revealed significantly elevated levels of testosterone. The NL MVP appealed the test's findings and its attending 50-game suspension and won on a technicality. But a sentence of national disrepute hardly seems like victory. And if Braun's brawn at the plate dips from the 33 home runs and .597 slugging percentage he posted last year, the chants could become decidedly more vicious. -Mark Bergin

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