"Michael Jordan wouldn't pass." Perhaps (even though he often did). But LeBron James is a special player, and passing is a fundamental part of his game. Why do many want him to change?

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SAN ANTONIO — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra scoffs at the criticism of superstar LeBron James.

"It's the theater of the absurd when you're dealing with what plays he makes at the end of the game," Spoelstra said. "He makes the right basketball play. We trust him to make the right plays."

Isn't that what basketball people want out of a player? Selflessness. A team player focused solely on winning championships.

So then, what about James bothers so many people?

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Is it that he passes sometimes instead of shooting? That he is his own player and plays the game his way instead of imitating someone else? Still bothered by the way he announced his decision to sign with the Miami Heat? Irritated that he teamed up with two other All-Stars? "Not one, not two, not three"?

Really, what is it?

People want James to be someone he's not, even though what he is is a once-in-a-generation player. Sunday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called James one of the best ever and said, "For all we know, LeBron is just getting started." That was before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, when James had 35 points and 10 rebounds as the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs to even the series at 1-all.

Here's some honesty: James is dedicated to the game, works to improve — he has gotten better when that seemed he couldn't possibly — and is a multi-dimensional threat offensively and defensively.

"He's an unbelievable performer," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "What may be more amazing to me is the way he's conducted himself over the years with all the scrutiny. None of us really understand what that is. He's done it pretty damn well."

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That's from one of the greatest NBA coaches ever. But it doesn't matter if Popovich, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Jerry West delivered praise. Not much will curtail the criticism.

It's odd, really.

Ballhogs are chastised, but when James is not a ballhog, he is crucified with silly talk. He often talks about playing the game the right way, as he did after Miami's 98-96 victory vs. the Spurs in Game 2.

"When the ball is in my hands, I'm going to make the right play," James said. "To have that trust from my teammates, they know when I got the ball, I'm going to make the right play. Doesn't mean it's going to go in. Doesn't mean it's going to result in a win, but they believe in my ability to do that."

Sometimes that means shoot, sometimes pass. But the right play is the right play.

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With the game on the line Sunday, James passed the ball to Chris Bosh, who missed a three-pointer with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left in the fourth quarter. When Bosh missed, it was reminiscent of when James passed to Bosh late in Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.

James was criticized for passing instead of shooting. But he relies on a simple philosophy: Draw two defenders and pass the ball. And 47 seconds after Bosh missed that three, James went back to him and Bosh made the three, putting Miami ahead for good.

James said he didn't even consider Bosh's previous miss.

"Not at all," James said. "I went right back to him and he knocked it down."

When James passes, the first thing people say is "Michael Jordan wouldn't pass." That's revisionist history at its best, as if Jordan did not give the ball up to Scottie Pippen in the final seconds of Game 6 of the 1993 Finals against the Phoenix Suns or pass to Steve Kerr for the winning shot in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals against the Utah Jazz.

But if it's not the way James plays, he's criticized for how many championships he has or doesn't have. That's another silly point. James is 2-2 in Finals, including a 2007 Finals loss to the Spurs.

You know who the key contributors were on that Cleveland Cavaliers team with James? Sasha Pavlovic, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Hughes, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Eric Snow. It's amazing the Cavs even made it out of the first round.

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Larry Bird was 3-2 in the Finals and Magic Johnson was 5-4. Jerry West was 1-8, and he's the NBA's logo. Did those Finals losses take away from their legacy? Not at all.

If it's not the way he plays or the number of championships won, it's his inability to play through leg cramps even though every player asked, including those on the Spurs, said it is impossible to play through cramps that lock up your legs.

The critics have to find something, anything.

Every coach at every level would love for players to play like James, and name an NBA player doesn't want to be James' team. Bill Russell said he would've enjoyed playing on the same team.

Not even that is enough.

"I'm here and I know who I'm playing for and what I'm playing for and what I stand for, not only as a basketball player but as man and as a role model," James said. "I know what I stand for. To be able to put an NBA uniform on every single night with my name on the back, knowing where I come from, let's me know that I've done something special.

"I just try to give back to the game as much as I can while I'm here."

Jeff Zillgitt is an NBA insider for USA TODAY Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffZillgitt.

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