5 Things the Common Fan Doesn't Understand About LeBron James
It's been 11 years, nearly five months, four MVP awards, one controversial relocation, two championships and 19 more Sports Illustrated covers since LeBron James appeared on the magazine as the chosen one.
You'd figure the world would really know him by now.
And yet, after all this time there remain caricatures of him, ones that don't account at all for the diversity of his personality. And, from those caricatures comes a distrust of virtually anything he says, even when he's shouting it in a moment of jubilation.
For me, I can't worry about what everybody says about me. I'm LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I'm not even supposed to be here. That's enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 with James on the back. I'm blessed. So what everybody (says) about me off the court don't matter. I ain't got no worries.
Well, of course he has worries. Everyone does.
Still, whether he still cares about what people are saying, there's no harm in providing a little more clarity.
Here are five things that I've learned about LeBron James while covering him for the Palm Beach Post home and road for the past three seasons:
5. He Can Still Be Humbled
LeBron James isn't shy.
He doesn't cower in a corner.
And he doesn't stay quiet for long.
When the Miami Heat finally open their practice doors, usually when the not-so-secret free-throw or long-range shooting portions have started, his is the first and loudest voice that the media usually hear.
When reporters are talking to Dwyane Wade or one of James' other teammates in an arena's seats during a road shootaround anywhere in his earshot, he makes sure to get their attention. Sometimes, he will sigh loudly. On occasion, he's even tossed over an empty plastic bottle.
Still, there are times when even he can be speechless.
There are times when even he, someone who calls himself "King James" and has met just about every pop culture superstar imaginable, can be humbled by an individual or circumstance.
Such was the case in late January when the Miami Heat visited the White House to be honored for their 2012 championship. James had met President Obama before, even played basketball with him. Still, he stammered while handing the President the basketball he had been cradling and rolling in his left hand.
Cleveland.com reported that James asked at the meeting, “Am I supposed to say something?”
“You can if you want to,” Obama said. “It’s your world, man.”
Then, James went from uneasy to unrestrained, acting most like himself and said:
I mean, we’re in the White House! And Coach said — and the Prez said this is real casual. So I mean, we’re kids from Chicago and Dallas, Texas and Michigan and Ohio and South Dakota…Miami. And we’re in the White House right now! This is like, "Hey, Mama, I made it."
His genuine enthusiasm should have made some see him differently.
4. NBA History Matters to Him
While James had yet to win a championship as of the All-Star break of 2012, he had done plenty that season to earn some applause, even from some of the NBA's all-time greats, many of whom had gathered in Orlando for that weekend.
So, after he finished an event at the Boys & Girls Club in Orlando, it seemed reasonable to ask:
Had any former player approached him in Orlando to praise his first-half play?
"No," James said, laughing. "Am I intimidating or something?"
"Because no one has come up to me," James said. "No, no, nah, you know. Talked to a couple of reporters, but not former players. Not yet. We'll see. We'll see."
In the past year and a half, more of the legends have come around, if not saluting the Miami Heat star in person, then doing so through various media outlets. Only Michael Jordan, it seems, continues to find flaws.
You can bet that their opinions, positive and negative, matter greatly to him. He hears or reads what they say.
That was proven when after he made a game-winning layup with his left hand in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and was reminded that Jordan said he didn't drive to that side, James quipped, "That theory is wrong, I guess."
When James calls himself a student of the history of the game, it's not lip service.
He can rattle off the names of role players on championship teams from when he was just a child, evidenced again when he summoned the name of obscure Chicago Bulls reserve Jud Buechler to illustrate that the number of championships don't define a career.
He spoke during the final stretch of the Heat's 27-game winning streak of wanting to "make a mark on history" as team. He has repeatedly spoken of wanting to make one as an individual, most recently after Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. He said:
I want to be, if not the greatest, one of the greatest to ever play this game. And I will continue to work for that, and continue to put on this uniform and be the best I can be every night.
So that future generations of players speak of him the way he does of his predecessors.
3. Intelligence Is His Primary Asset
LeBron James does not golf.
Ray Allen does so at times, and James has asked Allen to teach him, only to change his mind.
Still, there is something James does that should remind you of a PGA pro.
You know how golfers can remember every one of their 70 or 72 or 78 shots in their rounds, what club they used, how many yards they covered and what break they read right or wrong?
James is like that with basketball. Time and again he amazes media members with his ability to correctly recall situations, scores and shots, and not just in the game most recently completed, either. He said it's been true since little league, and certainly through high school. James said:
I can remember plays in situations a couple of years back, a few years back. I don't know. Sometimes it works great, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it can cloud my mind too much and I get to thinking about the game too much instead of just playing. Sometimes I'm able to put myself in situations that's better for me and better for our team by knowing what happened before. I guess it's a gift and a curse.
More of a gift, as is his ability to see plays before they occur.
It's why the Miami Heat forward often says that he never "pre-plans" anything, but rather allows the game to develop in front of him.
It's why the game sometimes seems so much slower for him than anyone else as it did this season when he was so selective with his shots that he set an NBA record by scoring 30 or more points on at least 60 percent shooting in six straight games.
His telepathy leads to efficiency.
It's why his mind, even more than his chiseled 6'8" frame, is his greatest asset.
"He's a basketball genius," his high school coach Keith Dambrot, said.
Even if his body eventually breaks down, as all NBA bodies do, his intelligence can continue to give him an edge.
At least that's what his coach Erik Spoelstra is expecting: Spoelstra said:
Why wouldn't he be able to improve and take it to another level in the years coming up? He's still so young and he has that type of mindset where he'll always try to improve on different aspects of the game. And a lot of his improvement, probably from here, will be efficiency and knowledge above the shoulders. And he can grow immensely with his IQ.
Even if it may never be the first thing that most observers notice.
2. His Teammates Like Him...a Lot
Nasty can be part of LeBron James' nature.
That was evident when he not only dunked on chatty then-Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry, but stood over him, stomped away and later spoke of his satisfaction with the spectacle.
That was evident when after Brooklyn Nets forward Reggie Evans questioned the legitimacy of the Miami Heat's championship in the lockout-shortened season, James made sure to point out that Evans hadn't contributed a single rebound in the game that followed.
That was evident during the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak when he started picking out the most hostile front-row fans, yapping at them and then staring their way after every made shot.
“Extra little fuel,” James said, smiling. “Yup. I like it, I enjoy it. You know, fans, they get into it a little bit more than they should sometimes, but I have a lot of fun with it.”
Still, genuinely nasty people aren't especially well liked by those who know them best, even if they do average 28 points per game and help them win.
And James has always been admired by the overwhelming majority of his teammates from pee wee and high school with the other members of his so-called "Fab Five" still counted among his closest friends, to his current Miami Heat crew.
Ray Allen called James "the most generous teammate I've ever played with," and Udonis Haslem spoke of getting so many free headphones from James that every member of his extended family asks for a pair. Everyone, to a man, calls him unselfish on the court, sometimes to a fault.
The Heat have a diverse locker room, and James is the central spoke, connecting everyone the way he did in planning the Harlem Shake. He considers himself a bit of a chameleon. He said:
I think my personality has given me the ability to be around all different personalities and not fake it. It’s genuine. I’ve been able to have a relationship with Ray, a different relationship with Rio (Mario Chalmers), all the way to the extreme with Bird (Chris Andersen).
From respectful student to big brother to free spirit.
1. In Many Ways, He's a Normal Guy
This could have happened in a lot of houses, those much less spacious than the one in which LeBron James, his fiance Savannah Brinson and his two sons reside.
James was watching a movie with LeBron Jr. and Bryce when he saw on Twitter that the Chicago Blackhawks had scored two quick goals and were on the verge of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
“I immediately pressed pause and got in trouble with my kids,” James said. “And I turned to the end of the game and saw what had happened.”
James is not a huge hockey fan, but he is a guy in every sense of that word. So he's a sports junkie, watching more ESPN SportsCenter than is probably healthy, considering how often he is that show's primary topic of conversation, and not always in positive terms.
He watches the Dallas Cowboys every Sunday (or Monday) in the fall and tweets his frustration.
He's an action aficionado.
He spent much of this postseason watching episodes of 24, not just recent ones, but those from the very start of the series. He got so caught up in HBO's Boardwalk Empire that he expressed disappointment with main gangster Nucky Thompson for getting distracted by a mistress in the most recent season.
Slapstick comedy? Sure, that too.
He didn't miss an episode of HBO's Eastbound and Down, somehow relating to the vulgar lead character, has-been relief pitcher Kenny Powers.
Then there was this, during the 2012 second-round series against the Indiana Pacers.
On an off night, James sat with two friends in the back of a nearly-empty Indianapolis theater, cackling throughout The Dictator.
Then, when it was over, he hustled down a few rows to where three reporters were sitting and asked, "Wasn't that hilarious?!"
Does that sound like something you might do?