Michael Jordan had Phil Jackson. So did Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. Tim Duncan has Gregg Popovich and the Celtics' "Big Three" have Doc Rivers. Dwyane Wade won his one NBA championship under Pat Riley.
What do all these coaches have in common? They are not only masterful at x's and o's, but are also reputed as some of the best spiritual leaders and psychological mentors in sports history.
Before you go off on your next "choke artist" rant about LeBron James, think about this: During the first nine years of his NBA career, who has James had as his mentor? Mike Brown and Erik Spoelstra.
Both young coaches are reputed as being great defensive tacticians. They are amongst the most promising strategists in the game. But do you really trust these two to impart onto James the wisdom and in-game mentality to win a ring? Do you trust Mike Brown to get the maximum effort from the 11th player on his bench like Gregg Popovich does every night? No.
One of the biggest issues with our next young crop of coaches is they look like they are too busy figuring out how to maximize output in front of a computer as opposed to from a player's mind and heart.
That's great and all, but LeBron James is already maximizing output.
What he isn't doing is walking around the court with the same stately "I've arrived" posture as Jordan, Bryant and Duncan did before they won their rings. It is that kind of attitude that is the difference between a two-point Eastern Conference final win or loss; between an NBA championship and another "choke" invective.
Here is some wisdom from each NBA coaching great:
"In basketball - as in life - true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way. Of course, it's no accident that things are more likely to go your way when you stop worrying about whether you're going to win or lose and focus your full attention on what's happening right this moment." - Phil Jackson, applying Zen-Buddhism to basketball.
“I asked them if it wasn't too much trouble, if I wasn't being too pushy, if they could execute what we were trying to do. And if it didn't make them too angry, if they also wanted to play some defense on the other end, that would be great.” - Gregg Popovich, using his routine dry humor and wit to ignite a spark in his players.
"I am because we are." - Doc Rivers, preaching South African mantra "Ubuntu" to his players.
Of course, these quotes are just the tip of the iceberg; mantras that these great coaches instill in their players' psyche on a daily basis. Has LeBron James had the benefit of being mentored under this mantra for a full year? And if not, could that benefit be the key to him dominating at the end of games?
Maybe Phil Jackson would be interested in taking his talents to South Beach in 2013.