LeBron James, Never More Comfortable or Confident, Resumes His Chase
That remains the lingering memory from the Miami Heat's monstrous 2010 media day, the one in a cramped gym at the University of Miami.
All that nervous tapping.
On that afternoon, LeBron James squirmed to the left of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Wade mostly held the microphone for their shared press conference, as the man most comfortable with his surroundings, the man in charge, trying to ease his new teammates' entrance.
Meanwhile, James, under unprecedented scrutiny, frequently averted his eyes, occasionally answered questions curtly and generally appeared as if he'd rather be anywhere else, with his incessant finger-tapping seemingly meant to take him there.
On Monday, for 2013 media day at AmericanAirlines Arena, he seemed in no hurry to cede the stage.
No hurry. No worries. No tapping.
In fact, if waiters and waitresses had been working the room, there may have been tipping. Because even while James was sitting down, his casual, conversational 20-minute press availability sometimes sounded like stand-up comedy.
His set started after he got the most serious business out of the way, telling the media exactly how he planned to handle the expected questions about his 2014 player option: "For me, being a leader of this team, I owe it to this organization, I owe to my teammates to really not get involved in it, to not talk about it."
It started after he was asked if he squeezed in the summer rest and work that he sought after last season ended: "I did get some rest. I will not reveal what I worked on in my game. I know you guys are tired of hearing me say this, but I got better. I'm a better basketball player than I was last year, in every aspect. I feel very confident and comfortable in my game right now."
It started with an answer that reflected his confidence and comfort in himself, as far as his place in the Heat organization, in the modern game and in NBA history.
The question: Has he accomplished what he came to Miami for?
"No, I haven't accomplished it, not yet," James said. "Not till I win, not 11, not 12, not 13, not 14. Not until I win that will I have accomplished my feat. No, just messing around, but...that will be the front of the damn page right there."
Laughter. From him, and his audience.
"Yeah, LeBron at 50 guarantees championship," James said.
There it was.
There was James making light of one of the sources of critics' mockery during the early stage of his Heat tenure, his smoke-show promise to win "not one, not two, not three, not four" championships.
That's where he is. Above the league. Above the fray.
"LeBron, as a man, has matured," Shane Battier said. "You see the way he walks, the way he talks. He feels good about being a guy in his late 20s. Obviously he's on top of the world. There's no one better than him in the entire world. And instead of that being a burden, I think he's learned to enjoy it. His kids are getting older, he's married now, he's more settled as a person. And as a friend, it's great to see someone who is just comfortable in who he is. As he grows, he's still going to improve."
James is now in a spot where he can joke.
He joked about the mental issues with his free-throw shooting ("90 percent is not the goal; that's out of control. Let's get to 80 first"). He joked about the nickname he'd wear on the back of his jersey (King, of course). He joked about Game 6 of the Finals, recalling the "awesome" way Ray Allen told the arena staff to get rid of the Spurs' championship ropes, choosing to omit his teammate's expletive in case his kids somehow caught this press conference. He even joked about the jewelry on his fingers.
Two rings, right?
"I've got three rings," he corrected, including the one recently earned as a new husband.
James is now in a spot where he can boast, and not care so much about the critics.
"I want to be the greatest of all time," James said. "That's my motivation...It's not to be the greatest of all time in anybody else's book, or how they judge. It's for me."
How close is he?
"I'm far," James said. "I'm far away from it. But I see the light."
He's seeing the light, while keeping it light.
And it's clear that, when it comes to chasing challenges, he's not tapped out.
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.
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