Sportsman: LeBron James (cont.)
James spends his free time like a typical 27-year-old American male. He watches League Pass and Sunday Ticket, mid-major basketball games and small-college football games, all on the big-screen TV in his den in Miami or the 30 big-screen TVs that are fused together in his basement in Akron. He grins when SportsCenter comes on and he is part of the championship montage that precedes the show.
If James is impressed by a player, no matter the level, he fires off a tweet. "The next thing you know," says Mims, "we'll go into the city where the kid lives, and he'll be there. LeBron just took care of it." James never had an NBA mentor, so he is counseling a generation. He holds annual basketball camps, and four years ago at the LeBron James King's Academy in Akron, he was struck by a fourth-grader with a wicked crossover named Amelia Motz. "I think it's because I was a pretty good white girl," Motz says, "and I didn't ask him for anything." She kept returning to the camp, and two summers ago James told her to keep in touch. She texted him when she received her first college letter, from Pitt, and he showed up last season to one of her games at Canton's Jackson Middle School.
At the time, Motz was deciding whether to stay at Jackson for high school or go to St. Vincent-St. Mary, LeBron's alma mater, and James shot with her the next day. "People were pulling me in a thousand directions, and he just told me to do what felt best for me," Motz says. "It's not about who he is but what he has to offer as a friend. He's like a big brother." When she turned 14 in July, James took her and her mother to Red Lobster for dinner. Motz is now a freshman guard at St. Vincent-St. Mary, 5'9" with a long brown ponytail, and feeling guilty because she recently won a starting spot after the regular point guard tore her ACL. "Last week I talked to LeBron about it," Motz says. "I want to earn everything I get, and I was worried I didn't deserve it. He told me someone had to step in, and I put myself in position to do that."
James is a natural leader, but it is one area in which he can still grow. He provides support and encouragement, but the greats push lesser teammates to higher places, without ever losing faith in them when they fall short. "If you want to be the Boat, you have to continue to win, and to do that you have to bring other players with you," Riley says. "He's a leader vocally and by example, but I see his frustration when we lose to good competition. Sometimes the players who helped win a championship one year aren't the same the next year. He has to make sure those guys are in it mentally all the time. He has to be the leader they trust and whatever he says goes."
James listens to linebacker Ray Lewis exhort the Ravens before games. He ignores the fire and brimstone, focusing on the message. "There's always a message," James says. "He's never just yelling." Miami has appeared disengaged defensively so far this season, ranking 20th in points allowed after finishing fourth in the same category last year. During a game against the Clippers in November, James stood on the right wing between Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. As they passed the ball back and forth, James shuffled from Griffin to Paul and back again, arms flailing by his sides. He chirped, "Ball! Ball! Ball!" the way coaches ask players to do in practice. He was demonstrating the energy and activity needed from his teammates. When Griffin finally made a move to the basket, James rushed over and blocked his shot with both hands.
Everyone told him he would feel unchained this season, the championship burden lifted, but he is still waiting for that sensation to take hold. "I know there is someone, somewhere, trying to take my spot," James says. "And I know where he is too. He's in Oklahoma. He's my inspiration because I see the direction he's headed, and it's the same direction I'm headed. I know his mind-set, and he knows mine. It's a collision course. We're driving one another." He is referring, of course, to Kevin Durant. They talk on the phone every week, friends and enemies, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird for a new era. "What's important to LeBron is what happens when he is facing KD again, or whoever it is in the Finals," Riley says. "[LeBron] needs that player to look back at him and think, This son of a bitch is too big, too strong, and his will is too great."
Toyota Center, Houston
November 12, 2012
GAME 8, 2012-13 NBA SEASON
MATT BULLARD, analyst, Comcast Sports Net Houston: I talked with Shane Battier before the game, and they'd gotten beat in Memphis the day before, and I asked him, "What was the deal last night?" He said, "The only thing that will stop us is if LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh don't have motivation to play hard. But if they have it, no one will beat us." I thought LeBron coasted through the first half in Houston. He didn't look like he was asserting himself. I said, "This is one of those games where he hasn't found any motivation."
LeBRON JAMES: We have a motto: Never lose two in a row. In the first half D-Wade was unbelievable, Chris was unbelievable, and I only had six points. I came out in the third quarter, Coach Spo ran a play for me, and I missed my first shot. Then they came right back to me and I made it. So I tried one from outside and knocked it down. Then Chris got an offensive rebound, kicked it to me, and I knocked down another. I was like, Let's see if this can be one of those nights. It's a zone. Everything you put up goes in, even if it's off-balance or a move you don't work on all the time. The ball just bounces for you. When you're not in a zone, you miss a wide-open layup, and you're like, What the...?
CHANDLER PARSONS, Rockets forward: You take away one thing, he's going to hit you with another. You take away that, and he'll do something different. You can't really stop the guy. You've just got to try and take away what he does best and make it as difficult as possible.
BULLARD: I played for the Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon. Teams would double him, throw three guys on him, and it didn't matter. That's what we saw from LeBron in the second half. No one matches him physically, and now no one matches him skill-wise. He hit three three-pointers, and on one of them he was three feet behind the line with two guys on him. He rose up and shot it so smooth, I thought, That's the Dream Shake right there. Then he had a play at the end where he drove by two guys, baseline, and laid it in. When you have the outside shot, when teams have to come out at you with everything they've got, it opens up the drive to the basket. He almost walked it in because his jump shot was such a weapon. He was shooting 47% from three-point range coming into the game. That's ungodly.
JAMES JONES, Heat guard: He has transformed from a kid who could barely shoot outside of 10 feet to a guy who can shoot from six feet behind the arc with a game on the line. To be a great shooter is to train as a great shooter, and the best way is to compete against me and Ray Allen and Mike Miller. We play different shooting games every day: best out of 10 or first to five in a row, sometimes step-backs and sometimes bank shots. He doesn't win very often, but he always competes.
PARSONS: I was talking to [Rockets assistant] J.B. Bickerstaff, and he was like, "I left the game and thought you did a really good job. And even watching the film, you did a good job. Nothing came easy to him, and then you look up and he has 38 points." It's frustrating. I would say I played well, but it's tough to be happy when the guy you're guarding has 38."