Posted: Monday December 3, 2012 5:03AM ; Updated: Monday December 3, 2012 11:42AM

Chronicling LeBron's career (cont.)

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

Throwing his weight around

LeBron James glides to the basket against Orlando in 2009, when he starred for Cleveland.
LeBron James glides to the basket against Orlando in 2009, when he starred for Cleveland.
Greg Nelson/SI

I first met LeBron in 2006. A number of things struck me: his basketball IQ while watching film, how polished (yet unrevealing) he was talking to the media, how his teammates deferred to him even though he was young. But the two biggest impressions were 1) his "team," which struck me as preposterous. For a 45-minute interview, James was accompanied by the better part of a dozen people, including PR folks, cronies, a personal stylist and his personal media guru (separate from the Cavs), who'd flown in from New York for the occasion. Did he really need all this?

In retrospect, it makes sense: surround yourself with this many yes men and women and one day you wake up on a TV special called The Decision. And 2) despite all his attempts to act like a CEO, he was still just a kid at heart. This became clear when our photographer, Michael LeBrecht, straddled James to get a portrait shot. At which point LeBron ripped off a long, stuttering fart, then began cackling like crazy.

In 2009, I saw a different LeBron. Supremely talented and supremely confident, perhaps overly so. Now he spoke like a man, acted like a man. More than anything, though, what struck me was his size. We set up an interview at the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco in January. During the previous weeks and months, there'd been much conjecture about LeBron's weight. He looked like a linebacker, all muscle and thick shoulders. There were whispers of 270 pounds, perhaps higher, but James refused to provide a number.

I was curious about two things: if he was indeed that big and why he was reluctant to discuss it. So I brought an electronic scale to the interview, but James wouldn't get on (a Cavs staffer later told me his weight was between 265-270). To me, this was LeBron in his second phase: hoping to create his own legend, looking to control as much as possible.


Chris Ballard on LeBronatomy 101, in a 2009 Sports Illustrated story:

"This is sure to exasperate scrawny teenagers toiling in weight rooms the world over, but despite his bodybuilder's physique, James has never really lifted. At least not the way a normal human would to develop such musculature. (Think heavy weight, low reps, lots of grunting and Metallica.)

"Rather, James began working out seriously only last June. 'He just messed around in the weight room and got by on raw strength his first few years,' says Cavs trainer Mike Mancias, who oversees all of James's conditioning work. Even now, James eschews what he calls 'iron-man championship lifting,' such as the bench press, for core exercises, dumbbells and, starting last summer, yoga not that he was an easy convert. 'I had to start with poses he wouldn't think were too goofy, if you catch my drift,' says Mancias. Still, there was James at a hotel in Los Angeles last summer, busting out some downward dog by the pool in front of his fellow guests.

That James has gained weight is as much a mystery to him as anyone else. He doesn't gulp protein shakes or pound down extra carbs, instead eating three square meals (such as oatmeal, chicken, salmon) prepared by his chef, with the occasional candy snack in between. 'It's kind of crazy,' James says. 'My body's, like, reversed.' "

Click here to read the full story.

A lesson in humility

LeBron James addresses the media after Miami lost the 2011 NBA Finals to Dallas.
LeBron James addresses the media after Miami lost the 2011 NBA Finals to Dallas.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Dirk Nowitzki had on a white T-shirt that stunk of champagne and a championship cap he wore as if he were a 12-year-old in a fireman's hat. He walked down the hallway of the arena in Miami with a bottle in his right hand and the Finals MVP trophy upside down in his left. He was the one who had arrived.

It was the final night of the 2010-11 season and LeBron James was headed out the door with no smell of liquor about him. He wore a blue suit and a gray tie and an unhappy expression of business. Dallas had won the NBA championship at his expense. Nowitzki was the winner and James, for what would be the last such season of his career, was on his way home once again as the loser who didn't yet understand how it felt or what it took to be a champion.

"LeBron, given your performances late in games in these Finals, what's your assessment of your ability to play well under pressure?''

"Does it bother you that so many people are happy to see you fail?''

"Do you take this as a personal failing?''

"Do you feel you choked in this series?''

The questions were aimed one after another at James, part of the same cruel process that had made a champion of Nowitzki. The years of postseason losses and frustrations hardened and inspired him. The same kinds of defeats -- magnified by James's self-destructive exit from Cleveland to Miami -- were going to have the same kind of constructive impact on LeBron.

"I've been in this league eight years,'' James said at the end of his first season in Miami. "There's no distractions that can stop me from trying to chase an NBA championship. Not you guys, not anything that goes on that's not focused on my team and my teammates and what we're out there to do.''

He was talking faster. He was scowling, seething.

"I work hard to try to put myself in position to play at a high level,'' James went on, managing his emotions yet letting them be seen. "I put a lot of hard work into this season individually. We all did. So we have nothing to hang our heads low. Just use this as an extra motivation to help myself become a better player for next year.''

Nowitzki was dressed to celebrate, with his bottle in one hand and his trophy in the other. For James, the goal would be to follow the path of Nowitzki and turn his pain into a celebration one more year away.
-- Ian Thomsen


Ian Thomsen on the challenged that faced the new-look Heat at the start of the Big Three era, in a 2010 Sports Illustrated story:

"Last summer's most persistent question -- will the three biggest free agents play together? -- was answered by James in a July 8 live infomercial that in 60 minutes deeply depleted seven years of brand equity. But the practical question remains unanswered: How will they play together? Each has grown up as the face of his franchise (small forward James of the Cavaliers, power forward [Chris] Bosh of the Raptors, shooting guard [Dwyane] Wade of the Heat), which left them feeling empowered enough to thumb a collective nose at NBA tradition and pull off their megamerger. They each wore white to the wedding and danced together onstage in July for 13,000 guests at the reception in Miami, and that was the fun part. Now comes the grind, the details, the tricky task of making their union work for everyone."

Click here to read the full story.

Five-minute guide to greatness

LeBron James has some parting gifts for Jay-Z's nephew after a 2012 game in New Jersey.
LeBron James has some parting gifts for Jay-Z's nephew after a 2012 game in New Jersey.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

For 43 minutes, it was an entirely forgettable game: Heat-Nets, on a Monday night last April at the Prudential Center in New Jersey, one team safely ensconced in the playoffs and the other hopelessly out of it. Dwyane Wade didn't play and LeBron James didn't play particularly well, at least not for those first 43 minutes. He was booed, the same way he was booed everywhere, and the Heat appeared headed to an embarrassing but ultimately meaningless loss.

People always say you only need to watch the last five minutes of an NBA game, and though I strongly disagree, that night in New Jersey helps prove their point. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the Heat down by five points, an unstoppable force appeared. Before the game, I'd asked New Jersey's DeShawn Stevenson what it's like to guard James when he gets a running start. "Like standing in front of a train," Stevenson said. That's what James became at the five-minute mark: an Amtrak off the rails.

He scored 17 straight points, virtually all of them on drives and post-ups, none more than five feet from the basket. Even the Nets' fans stood and cheered. They snapped pictures with their camera phones. MVP chants filled the air. No one confused the Nets with the Thunder, but it was still an NBA game, and James simply decided he was going to take it over. Anybody at the Prudential Center that night left with a pretty good idea of what was going to happen two months later. James finally understood what so many of his peers recognized long ago. When he attacks the rim, no one can keep him from it.

After the game, James walked over to Jay-Z's nephew in the front row and slipped his headband around the boy's neck. Then he took off his sneakers and gave those up as well. On the way to the locker room, he asked, "Does this work?" I'd interviewed him two days before at a hotel restaurant in Jersey City and he reflected on the changes he made after The Decision and the NBA Finals loss to Dallas. He talked a lot about rediscovering his joy for basketball. Standing there, in his socks, he had clearly found it.
-- Lee Jenkins


Lee Jenkins on newly crowned NBA champion LeBron James, in a 2012 Sports Illustrated story:

"James has grown in front of the world's eyes, through Technicolor lenses on high-definition flat screens, from a prodigy in Akron, Ohio, to a colossus in Cleveland to a polarizing sun god in Miami. At 4:15 a.m. last Saturday, as James struggled to sleep, he felt himself enter a new stage. 'It just finally hit me,' he wrote in a text message to Maverick Carter, his childhood friend and business manager. 'I'm a champion.' Twelve hours later, James sat under overcast skies on the Ritz terrace, wearing a white T-shirt with the slogan EARNED NOT GIVEN and sipping a Sprite. He was still sleepless and in no hurry to nap. 'I'm having all my best dreams wrapped into one,' he said.

"Pressure remains, the burden of the supernaturally gifted, but in a different form. All the breathless questions that hounded James since the Cleveland days -- Can you close a game? Can you lead a team? Can you win a title? -- are gone, sunk at the bottom of Biscayne Bay. "It's time to make a new challenge," James says. 'I've got to figure out what that is. I know I can get better. And I know I'm not satisfied with one of these.' Twenty-nine teams should be very afraid, because James has breached the championship levee, just as Michael Jordan did in 1991. Jordan was 28, and he won five more titles in the next seven years, even with a break for baseball. James is 27, and for the first time he will get to play without a baboon on his back. 'With freedom,' Heat president Pat Riley says."

Click here to read the full story.

1 2
Hot Topics: NBA Playoffs NHL Playoffs Golden State Warriors Bryce Harper Paul Pierce Masai Ujiri
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines, your California privacy rights, and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint