LeBron James' Early Playoff Failures Created NBA Juggernaut We See Today

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LeBron James' Early Playoff Failures Created NBA Juggernaut We See Today
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
Miami Heat's LeBron James

From winning the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2004 to being named an All-Star in his second season, LeBron James exceeded all expectations early on in his career. 

He would finally meet adversity on the basketball court, however, when he failed to win even one game during 2007 NBA Finals as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers

This early playoff failure was magnified for James by the public backlash requiring him to win an NBA title from that point forward.

He would then be on the clock to deliver a championship for the next five seasons before finally doing so as a member of the Miami Heat in 2012. 

It was this five-year evolution, though, that strengthened James' mental toughness as a player, and ultimately created the NBA juggernaut we see today. 

Trailing the San Antonio Spurs 2-1 in the 2013 NBA Finals, the reigning MVP will be leaning on the lessons he learned during those early playoff failures in order to lead his team back in this series.

These lessons include a mature humility that James developed through his playoff failures combined with a true sense of who he is as a player.

They also include an understanding of how to respond from significant losses along with the ability to adjust his game to what his team needs most.


James' early playoff failures helped him develop a mature humility

LeBron James on cover of Sports Illustrated in high school.

From Sports Illustrated covers in high school declaring him "The Chosen One", to record-breaking contracts with Nike, the hype surrounding LeBron James' entrance into the NBA was unprecedented.

During his first four seasons in the league, however, James' play exceeded the overwhelming hype and expectations.

By 2007, he had been named NBA Rookie of the Year, made three trips to the All-Star game and led his team to an Eastern Conference championship.

It wasn't until James met Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals for the first time did he truly experience adversity on the basketball court.

In failing to lead Cleveland to even one win during the 2007 NBA Finals, while shooting 35.6 percent for the series and averaging 5.8 turnovers, James was humbled for the first time in his career.

This lesson in humility led James to work even harder in the offseason, though, specifically improving one area of his game after another over the next five years.


James learned to be true to himself as a player through his playoff failures

Since arriving on that NBA Finals stage for the first time in '07, LeBron James failed to deliver on championship expectations for the next four seasons. 

In 2010, his Cleveland Cavaliers were expected to beat the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They would be eliminated in six games instead, however, as James shot 38.9, 21.4 and 38.1 percent in the final three games of the series. 

This playoff failure came on the heels of a 2009 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic

James would then leave Cleveland and join the Miami Heat by way of "The Decision" during the summer of 2010, in a quest for that elusive title, and suffer the wrath of NBA fans because of it. 

In response to that backlash, James attempted to embrace the false persona of an "NBA villain" during his first season with the Heat. 

This mentality proved detrimental for James, though, as he later explained to Rachel Nichols in an ESPN interview following Miami's loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals.

In that interview with Nichols, James also vowed to be true to himself as a player moving forward and compete with the same joy and passion he did in the past.

He did specifically this in 2011-12, and James' renewed sense of self as a player was critical in helping him lead the Heat to an NBA championship in 2012.


LeBron has learned how to respond to playoff losses along the way
 

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Heat's LeBron James in 2012 NBA Finals

LeBron James is more dangerous now than he was in 2007 because he's learned how to respond to significant playoff losses. 

After failing to deliver a championship in 2011, for example, James opened the 2012 NBA Finals with a Game 1 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder

As his legacy hung in the balance, James responded in Game 2 with a 32-point, eight-rebound and five-assist effort against the Thunder to even the series at 1-1.

Over the next three games, he recorded two double-doubles and a triple-double while never scoring less than 26 points as the Heat eliminated the Thunder in five. 

In Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 finals, James shot only 33 percent as the Heat fell 113-77. 

The difference being now, as opposed to 2007, is that his failures have given James the experience necessary to come back even stronger for the duration of the series. 


James' failures have helped him adjust his game to what his team needs most

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Heat's LeBron James in 2013 NBA Finals

The biggest concern for the Miami Heat heading into the 2013 playoffs was their ability to rebound the basketball. 

During the 2012-13 regular season, for example, the Heat finished last in rebounding at 38.6 per game.

In an attempt to set the tone for his team on the glass, James opened Miami's series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs with double-figure rebounds. 

He has gone on to lead his team in rebounds with 8.1 per game for the postseason.

In the process, however, James' scoring has dipped to 16.7 points in the finals.

Expect him to recognize this moving forward, though, and respond accordingly in Game 4 with a specific focus on scoring the basketball. 

If James is able to become that dominant scorer for the duration of the series, a second-straight NBA championship is still possible for the league's MVP.

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