Whether you root for LeBron James or you root against him, the recent SI piece that Lee Jenkins wrote on James is a must-read. It’s an introspective look into LeBron’s mindset over the last couple years coming from a position of balance, and I’d suggest you read the article in its entirety. Below are some snippets of that, with first the part that most people are talking about since the article went live at SI.com:
“I lost touch with who I was as a basketball player and a person,” James says. “I got caught up in everything that was going on around me, and I felt like I had to prove something to people, and I don’t know why. Everything was tight, stressed.” In Cleveland, where he played seven seasons, James had the loudest laugh in the locker room.
He used to bellow “Waffles!” from the back of the bus when he was hungry. He amused himself by simply transposing someone’s initials. He was JeBron Lames. But in Miami, he adopted what he calls “the villain mind-set,” stacking his anger on top of everyone else’s. He skulked across the court, stone-faced, a glower replacing the familiar grin.
To be honest, I couldn’t agree with him more. As a person who’s followed LeBron’s career since he was a ninth grader, he didn’t play like himself last season. It had an effect on him too. There is no part of LeBron James that is a villain, and he did try to embrace that role to his detriment last season. Whether he’s able to follow this rejuvenated approach that will win him another MVP award this year throughout the playoffs remains to be seen however.
How he ends up approaching that responsibility to his team and legacy to win an NBA Title this season may be the deciding factor in whether he does or doesn’t. There is seeming no flaw to his game now out on the court, he’s playing basketball almost as perfectly as it can be played. That approach was something that Shane Battier did make a point of mentioning though too, which I also found interesting:
“In the crazy world he lives in, this is really the only bastion of normalcy he gets,” says Battier of the Heat locker room. “In here we bust his balls and talk about his beard and his chin and all that stuff. But we say it out of love while everyone else says it out of spite. He knows how much he means to us, and he takes that responsibility very seriously — maybe too seriously.”
If he does win it all this season, a lot will have to do with the fact that he finally relented and now operates inside with his back to the basket. Something Cleveland fans begged, wished, and prayed he would do for three seasons, only he didn’t until losing the title last season.
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. “I didn’t do it because people told me I needed to do it,” James says. “I was looking at myself thinking, How can I get better and ultimately make our team better? The post game was something I needed to work on.”
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 — England, Spain and China — repeating the footwork in individual sessions with his private trainer.
From here there’s nowhere he can go but win it all. Anything less will be an utter disappointment, and I’m not sure he’ll be ever able to rejuvenate his legacy again if that happens. As it stands right now though, he might not have to worry about that.