The most compelling part of the Barack Obama–LeBron James comparison is the baffling way each wilts when the lights are brightest and the stakes highest. LeBron has now appeared in two championship series (2007, 2011) and an Eastern Conference finals (2010), where he played poorly and shrank whenever the game was tight in the fourth quarter. LeBron didn’t want the ball and played hot potato whenever the ball found its way to him. Similarly, Obama is said to be “leading from behind” when he dishes off health-care reform and negotiating the debt-ceiling agreement to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Obama has passed responsibility for Gitmo policy and trials for terror suspects to Eric Holder, his attorney general. The buck has been passed to NATO for our military presence in Libya. At each crisis, Barack Obama hasn’t wanted to take responsibility for a decision, so he relied on his teammates in his cabinet and Congress to carry him.
This is another problem with Friedman’s comparison. Politics, like basketball, is a team sport. The president isn’t playing against a single opponent. Interactions with teammates matter. As in basketball, a balance must be struck between individual performance and the needs of the team. Just as LeBron passing repeatedly in the Finals hurt his team’s chances for a championship, Obama’s failure to strike a grand bargain hurt his teammates Reid and Pelosi and made their roles harder.