He flew home to Ohio—yes, his home is still in Ohio—where he biked on his favorite off-road trail, as many as 70 miles through the hills between his house in Bath and Cleveland. He trained with his first coach at Akron's St. Vincent--St. Mary High, Keith Dambrot. "A lot of people are intimidated by LeBron, but he wants the truth," says Dambrot, now the coach at Akron. "He's not too big to take criticism. I told him, 'You have to do more offensive and defensive rebounding, moving without the ball, all the basics that made you great going back to the beginning.'"
ON A TABLE IN JAMES'S LIVING ROOM IN BATH IS A book about leadership called The Ant and the Elephant, a gift from a friend. James is not much of a reader, but he opted for the book over TV. "It's about an ant who is trying to find his way to this oasis, but the only way to get there is to train an elephant who wants to get there too," James says. "At one point the ant is on the elephant's back and there is a pack of lions, and the elephant scares the lions off. The ant is like, I have the toughest friend in the world. But later the elephant sees a mouse, and he runs away. The ant can't understand how this big creature could be so dominant over a pack of lions but so scared of a mouse. The ant has to train the elephant to let him know, You are the biggest, baddest thing out here." James pauses for a moment. As a member of a supposed juggernaut, he can relate to the ant. And as a 250-pound force of nature, he can relate to the elephant. "I took a lot from that," he says.
James finally summoned the courage to watch the 2011 Finals and studied every game except the first one, his best. He was a wallflower in the fourth quarters of Games 4 and 5, scoring two points combined. "I make game-changing plays," James says. "In that series I didn't make nearly enough. It was time for me to get back to the fundamentals."
For years coaches have harped on James to move off the perimeter and into the post, where he can pass out of double teams or bulldoze to the hoop. Dallas provided the motivation. He flew to Houston and spent three days with former Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon, videotaping the workouts. Olajuwon showed James variations of the Dream Shake to use against bigger defenders, smaller defenders and when the shot clock is winding down. James uploaded the video onto his computer and took it everywhere he traveled, repeating the footwork in individual sessions with his private trainer.
James also believed his ballhandling was deficient, so he went to Kentucky to work with Brandon Weems, a high school teammate and Wildcats assistant director of basketball operations. James practiced with two basketballs at a time while Weems shadowed him as he dribbled, leaning against him and smacking his wrists and hands.
"The greats always stay uncomfortable," says Spoelstra. "LeBron came back looking like a new player in terms of his offensive skill set." James traditionally shot three-pointers with the guards after practice. Suddenly, he was bodying up with the centers. "If I'm going to work more in the post, I have to give up something," James says. "To be more efficient, it had to be the three, because I'm more effective in the paint." James hung around AmericanAirlines Arena for hours with assistant David Fizdale, honing two basic power moves on either block: one to the middle and one to the baseline. When a second defender arrives, he sidearms the ball to the open man, quick as a shortstop turning a double play. "Everything we did was about being good at less, great at more," Fizdale says.
Ask James to recount his finest performance of the season, and he refers to a clunker at home against the Magic in March in which he shot 4 of 14. "I shot horrible," James says. "But it didn't stop me from doing other things." A glance at the box score reveals that he racked up 12 rebounds, seven assists, five steals in a 91--81 win over a team that has caused the Heat trouble. To see the look on his face as he talks about that game—pure satisfaction despite only 14 points—is to peek inside his basketball soul.
JAMES STARTED PLAYING IN AN AKRON REC LEAGUE when he was eight years old and there were only five games on the schedule. He was taller than everybody, so he wanted to rebound, and faster than everybody, so he also wanted to push the ball. When defenses keyed on him, he passed, and he relished that too. His team inevitably went 5--0, and at the postseason banquet, coach Frankie Walker gave an MVP trophy to everybody on the roster. "I didn't understand it," James says. Clearly, he was the MVP. "You're going to be in the limelight a lot," Walker told him. "You have to remember to bring your teammates with you."