LeBron James and his lack of fouling has (again) become a talking point, mostly thanks to a much-bemoaned Dwyane Wade no call on Rajon Rondo (Well that, and Miami’s 47 free throws to Boston’s 29 FTs). This is quite similar to how LeBron gets blamed for not taking a buzzer beater that Wade misses. If Dwyane catches a cold, LeBron gets the flu–while also getting ridiculed for starting the bubonic plague of AAU-me-first-passivity-shrinkingism.
The “He doesn’t get called for fouls! superstar non call!” trope has resonance because it riles up those who feel that LeBron James was presumptuously marketed to them, that his is a false reign, propped up by NBA puppet masters. This is a deranged, paranoid way to think. So of course, it’s quite a popular sentiment.
I’ve read a bit about how James only had three (Three!) fouls in the Indiana series. The charge is spat as though it’s a self evident uncovering of malfeasance, as though the mere existence of this data is something on the level of basketball’s Pentagon Papers.
Show me some visual evidence and then we can discuss whether David Stern’s pointing the real JFK murder weapon at his refs and demanding they follow Maverick Carter’s orders. Show me something compelling, because LeBron James averages a mere 1.5 fouls in the regular season. Against Indiana, he averaged .5 fouls in the small sample size of six games. One foul fewer per game isn’t exactly a dramatic shift from what you’ll see on League Pass in January.
Six games against the Pacers would have projected to yield James roughly nine fouls. That he notched only three isn’t exactly setting my hair ablaze, considering the paucity of minutes. Remember, LBJ had a combined nine fouls over just two consecutive playoff games versus the Knicks. Averages are the stuff of lulls and booms.
But the established pattern of LeBron’s regular season foul-avoidance irks some folks even more than his lack of playoff PFs. I’ll respond to that sentiment with a fairly radical notion: Pssst…LeBron James actually doesn’t foul a lot. Like, in reality. Not just reality as determined by those guys who tote whistles and wear shirts made out of thickened pantyhose.
For every chase down block, there are a bundle of dunks James lets slide. I don’t mean that as a criticism, just a description. Once beaten, LeBron isn’t so inclined to make anyone “earn it” at the line with a desperate wrap-up. This strategy is probably smart, as fouls are generally bad for teams, and free throws result in a high points-per-possession. This non-fouling strategy is also probably smart because it’s employed by the San Antonio Spurs.
Speaking of which, where are the conspiracy theorists on why San Antonio so rarely gets whistled? If the presumption is that “lack of fouls” equals “ref favoritism” then that team would be a logical place to direct such illogic. Also, Andre Iguodala–another great wing defender–averages 1.5 fouls per contest. Are we assuming that the fix is in for Iggy and his ratings-galvanizing troupe of Sixer superstars?
Not only is this “Refs don’t whistle LeBron!” meme stupid, but it turns an accomplishment into an insult. LeBron James plays fantastic defense without fouling. This is difficult to do and helps his team immensely. In a smarter world, we’d praise James for this, and not pretend that he’s a false prophet on account of having a valuable skill.