Sportsman: LeBron James (cont.)
On the ninth day of a 10-day pre-Thanksgiving road trip, James sat by the pool on the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix, feeling ill. The Heat had arrived at the hotel that morning at three, and on the flight from Denver, James and Wade killed time watching a video from their rookie season, called Dunks! Vol. 2. They marveled at how young they looked nine years ago and how high they jumped. "It seemed like a whole life ago," Wade says. "LeBron was more athletic then, but he's a way better player now. He's another person."
As veterans age, they find it more difficult to recover from travel. James was queasy. He didn't know if he could play the next night against the Suns. As he sipped chamomile tea, he was asked what drives him in the middle of November, at the end of a long trip, against a forgotten team in a faraway city. The Finals, and a potential rematch with Durant, were more than six months away.
James tugged on his Heat cap. In 28 hours he would take the court with a nasty flu. Up by four in the final minute, he would grab a rebound, push the ball down the right wing and dribble once between his legs and again behind his back. Using a screen from Bosh, he would drive to his left and spin back to his right before feathering a layup just over the outstretched hand of 6'11" center Marcin Gortat. The Heat would win, and James would score 20 points or more for the 32nd consecutive game. Even some Suns fans would applaud.
But at the pool he craved a day off. "I've been fortunate to have packed houses every night I go on the floor," James said. "I understand they're coming to watch the Suns tomorrow, but they're also coming to watch us and watch me, and I want people to appreciate how I play. I don't want them to leave disappointed. No matter if you've got a Suns jersey or a Heat jersey, I feel like you're here to see me. So once the lights turn on and the fans come in and the popcorn starts popping, I'll be ready to go. However much I have, I'll use it. I just think about that one guy, coming to one game, who called the radio station, and he was the fifth caller and they said, 'Number 5 caller, you've won two tickets to see the Miami Heat! Go crazy!'
"I'll be damned if I'm going to let him down."
SI Now: Make or break year for Danica Patrick
SI Now: Russell Simmons on the benefits of meditation for athletes