What really happened with LeBron James in the 2010 NBA Playoffs?

One of the most popular Cleveland Cavaliers conspiracy question marks will forever be what happened to LeBron James in 2010 in the series with the Celtics. Move over Delonte West and forget about alleged trades involving the Suns and J.J. Hickson, the one we’ll probably talk about forever is LeBron James, the Celtics, his elbow and all the “body language” diagnosis that can ever be fathomed. Conspiracy theories and speculation is for fans and media mostly, but Zach Lowe put it to Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who was an assistant with the Cavaliers at that time and his answer seems much simpler.

I’ve never gotten a great answer on what, if anything, happened to LeBron in the 2010 series the Cavs lost to Boston. He put up numbers, but people thought he looked disengaged. There were rumblings of an elbow injury. You were there: What was your take?

It’s a great question. LeBron made us look like pretty good coaches in Cleveland. We owe him a lot. Boston was our nemesis. We could never get past Boston. But that series, in 2010, I don’t know if it was an injury. A lot of people said he quit, mentally.

Look, we won Game 3, took back home-court advantage, and went home for Game 5. We’re down six at halftime. I remember this so clearly. They come down, miss, offensive rebound, kickout 3 for Ray Allen. We’re down nine. They come down again, miss, offensive rebound, kick out, another Ray Allen 3.1 We’re down 12, series over. We never recovered.

To be honest, I don’t know: Was it physical? Was it mental? Did he not believe? I’m not sure. And right after, obviously, he took his talents to South Beach. But over those five years, we were maybe the winningest team in the league, and LeBron made all that possible.

As time has gone along, I’ve come to my own conclusion that LeBron James was just frustrated and overwhelmed. Combine it with my post-hoc conclusion that Mike Brown wasn’t ever going to be the right coach for the Cavaliers, and the easiest answer might just be the simplest.

But still, we’re left with video evidence of left-handed free throws which is just so hard to reconcile.

The conspiracies live on!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I think it was a cumulative effect including he was indeed hurt evidenced by the video of him shooting the free throw left handed. I do believe, it’s been awhile, but didn’t he hurt his right elbow/hand/arm in that series? I seem to recall something to that effect despite nobody really talking about it. They were more focused on the Delonte West-Gloria James soap opera.

  • Harv

    You know, LeBron spoke about it recently. Said underwent multiple tests, all negative.

  • JM85

    Still say he quit or choked. Not that it matters now anymore.

  • mgbode

    The injury happened in the Bulls series, whether or not it was still effecting him is a matter for debate.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It’s only a matter of debate for those who want to continue the “he quit” crap. Point is he wasn’t 100% regardless.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Maybe he did but if not for him that team like all of the rest wouldn’t have done what it did. Fast forward to 2014-2015 and it’s the same thing although at least that time there were injuries to other key players.

  • cleveland_endures

    Simmons had a thought on this during the playoffs that I thought could be valid – he said that stars don’t live up to what we expect of them when they know they’re leaving, that the guilt of bailing catches up with them. He pointed to Aldridge this year as another example, that he didn’t play well against Memphis because he already knew he wanted to leave.
    So my guess is that LeBron knew he was heading to Miami to team up with Wade. He planned on going out with a championship, but as the Boston series was going south he knew the Cavs didn’t have the 2nd banana (thanks, Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison) they needed to win a title. So he checked out.

  • RGB
  • architrance

    I was hung up on this for a long time, since it was our lasting final memories of Lebron – the inexplicable way this series ended, then him walking off the court, trashing our uniform on the way out. The fact that it was his swan song here magnified it in my mind. But I’m sure it was nagging injuries and utter exhaustion. You could see how gassed he was by the end of game 6 of these Finals. Suddenly JR’s making pipe from 3 and there is this faint glitter of hope, but Lebron just didn’t have anything left in the tank. It happens, I guess.

  • Ghost2Most

    At the time I was convinced that LeBron quit and tanked that series so he would have an excuse to leave Cleveland.

    Then, a year later, we watched him punk out again. This time with Miami against Dallas in the finals.

    Did he quit? No, he choked. JMO.

  • JM85

    He redeemed himself already to me, especially in the playoffs. When he collapsed to the floor after a grueling game with Atlanta, it’s hard to to ever question effort again.

  • JM85

    This is a great point, he did it the very next year with Miami as well and that team was loaded with talent.

  • Guraway