DALLAS — Those who receive praise don't necessarily get to decide why it is bestowed upon them.
But they are allowed to have, and express, a preference.
During a recent postgame conversation, Bleacher Report asked LeBron James what he would like people to recognize first about him, his athleticism, his intelligence or anything in between.
"I would much rather people notice how smart I am as far as being a basketball player," James said without hesitation. "Being able to see things and know things, all the way from seeing a play before it happens, to are we in the penalty, to what the time and score is, to how many fouls my teammates got, to how many fouls the guy who's guarding me has. I pride myself on having a huge basketball IQ. I think it helps us out a lot as a team, and it helps me out, too."
James acknowledged that his physical attributes "help a lot."
"My ability to jump, my ability to take contact, my ability to do a lot of things," James said. "But I think my basketball IQ is what got me to this point. Because when I was 6'2", 185 pounds, as a freshman in high school, my coach always said he's one of the smartest guys (he's) ever coached..."
"Before this 6'8", 250-whatever frame," he said.
He couldn't recall when he first realized he had an intellectual gift for the game, or when the public at large began to first identify it.
"People breaking down my game every day, trying to figure out, 'What is he best at, is he a scorer, is he a facilitator, is he a point guard, is he a small forward, what is he?'" James said. "For me, I've just got to play. I'm blessed to be able to play this sport. I'm going to let the gurus put me wherever they want to put me."
But where does he put all the information about basketball, so that—after games—he often sounds like a golfer recording every shot of a round, and a previous round, and a round a few months ago?
"I have an unbelievable hard drive," James said. "My hard drive is pretty unique, man. And I don't take it for granted."
Neither does his coach, or his teammates.
After James' comments, Bleacher Report asked Erik Spoelstra, Ray Allen and Shane Battier for their best examples of James' IQ.
"There was a situation this year, a couple months ago, where we had a defensive coverage that we were making an adjustment to, during shootaround," Spoelstra said. "It confused everybody momentarily. And LeBron said, 'No, this was the adjustment we made in Game 3 in the NBA Finals against Dallas (in 2011). And this is the guy who needs to rotate. Remember that?' And this is the way coaches think. But for a player to remember that, from something happened three years ago, and what game we made that adjustment...And you hear about the greats that have had that, Larry Bird, Magic (Johnson), that had great recall of games."
Spoelstra also chose to make a distinction that isn't often defined.
"There's a difference between high IQ and great instincts for the game," Spoelstra said. "There's a lot of players that have great instincts, and a feel for the game, and make plays that to the average fan, you view that as high IQ. But the high-IQ guy, the truly high-IQ player, sees plays before they happen. And that sounds like a cliche, but they actually do. They see how things unveil before they happen, two, three passes before it happens, on both sides of the court."
Shane Battier has typically been credited with that sort of IQ.
"It's hard enough knowing your own job when you're playing," Battier said. "But to know really five guys..."
Battier spoke of how James is quickly able to identify the weakest defender, or one who won't come to help from the corner in a particular situation.
"In an instant, (James) can put people in the right place like a coach, and exploit the defender who is not going to do his job," Battier said. "And very few guys can do that. Some guys may see it sometimes, but he sees it all the time. He sees the game like a coach, and makes suggestions like a coach. It's pretty special."
Battier knew it from their first practice together in 2011.
"He and I have a pretty awesome bond, because we can look at each other and make an adjustment," Battier said. "We have amazing nonverbal. And you only get amazing nonverbal if you are on the same wavelength intellectually with someone. And I think I know the game pretty well."
Allen teamed up with James in 2012. While an avid golfer himself, Allen admits that he can't recall his rounds or—as a basketball player—his games, quite like James recalls, well, everything.
What about during the contest itself?
How does IQ come into play?
"By the fourth quarter, he understands the evolution of the game," Allen said. "I've always been the type to follow a game where you know how a team is guarding you, from the beginning to the end. And he pays attention to that. And by the fourth quarter, he knows exactly what he has, and what a team might do defensively. He pays attention. And I don't think it's just basketball. He'll tell you what wide receiver in the NFL, what school he went to. We always joke about it."
This extends to conversations about another athlete's performance. Allen said that, when they are talking about basketball or football games of the past, James has instant recall of every detail related to his whereabouts.
"He'll be like, 'Yup, I was home sitting on the couch, and my big toe was up in the air, and he shot a three, and I remember I jumped up and my big toe fell down and I kicked the TV,'" Allen said. "And he does have that photographic memory. And we'll be like, 'I was at home watching Jeopardy.'"
Maybe, someday, we'll see James on that.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!