- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
LeBRON JAMES: I sent an e-mail about this to Warren Buffett. I'm a kid from Akron who lived in poverty for a long time, and I sometimes send financial statements to one of the richest guys ever. It's kind of scary. I'm like, "Why is he talking to me?" But anyway, the e-mail was about representing your country. It's not about sports. It's about everything else. It's about everybody who has ever walked on U.S. soil. You start to remember the lives that have been lost, the troops, the real superheroes. That's what went through my mind. You talk about a burden, or a weight, it gets no heavier. And then what went through my mind was, You're here for a reason. It's time to make a play.
JASON HERRON, Cavaliers fan: I burned his jersey the night he left, but I'm American more than anything, and I was definitely rooting for him. I bet 90% of Cleveland was rooting for him. It looked like the game was slipping away. Everybody was struggling. You were thinking, Could they lose? Then he scored nine points in the last four minutes. Only he could do that. Love him or hate him, you have to respect him.
KRZYZEWSKI: It happened again in the gold medal game [against Spain]. He had four fouls, and I had to take him out. I didn't want to. That was our vulnerable spot because we didn't have many big guys. He had to guard a center. Late in the second half, I couldn't wait any longer to put him back in. I can still see him driving and dunking, and taking that three. He made the winning plays for us. I can also still see his incredible reaction. He was smiling, and he has this great smile that consumes his entire face. After the game he was jumping around with his teammates, singing and dancing on the bus. I told him, "What you've accomplished this year puts you in an elite group in sport. Man, take some time off."
JAMES: I read what people wrote after that game, and they were saying I was in a class with sports figures who had historic single years: Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Usain Bolt. I don't think it can get any better than 2012.
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."