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Thursday, February 20, 2014

LeBron James Explains How Dwyane Wade Helped Him to Develop a Championship Mentality

LeBron James' All-Star Weekend interview with Steve Smith has received attention regarding James' selections for a hypothetical all-time pro basketball "Mount Rushmore" (Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson)--but what I found most intriguing was James' explanation of how he transformed his game during his second season in Miami (2011-12), particularly in terms of his relationship with Dwyane Wade:

It's easy when you sit around in the summertime and say, "Let's team up." That's the easy part. The hard part is when you actually get on the floor and see how similar both guys are and how both guys are used to having the ball in their hands. Two or three possessions go by where you're like, "I've been playing defense for three straight possessions. I need the rock." It's just two alpha males going at it...

We weren't playing good basketball, we were out of sync and me and D. Wade were looking at each other like, "Did we make the right choice, man? Is this what we really want?" Can two guys who basically held franchises on their shoulders and decided to team up give one shoulder to each other to make this happen? There was a clash for sure.

If we can look back on it, I'm surprised we even got to the (2011) Finals. I'm still surprised we even got there...

D. Wade called me (after Miami lost in the 2011 Finals) and we went to the Bahamas...I felt like, if I don't win this year, I'm going to get buried under every cemetery that they've got. So, we went to the Bahamas and had some great conversations there. D. Wade was like, "In order for us to be great, you have to be the guy." I was looking at him like, "What? What do you mean by that? I am the guy but what do you mean by 'the guy'?" He was like, "In order for us to be great, in order for us to accomplish what we want to accomplish while we are playing together, you have to be the guy that you were in Cleveland and I'll take a step back."

Many commentators asserted that what went wrong with James' Cleveland Cavaliers was that James did not have a good enough supporting cast--an excuse that completely went out the window after he lost in the 2011 NBA Finals while playing alongside perennial All-Stars Wade and Chris Bosh plus a host of solid role players--but the reality is that on several occasions as a Cavalier when James was challenged in the playoffs by elite level opponents he quit and complained; James went to Miami trying to escape the responsibility of posting dominant numbers in the playoffs against elite teams, so it is very ironic that in order to win championships James had to adopt the very mindset that he was reluctant to have in Cleveland: instead of griping about a supposed lack of help, James--and any other MVP level player who aspires to win a championship--must embrace the necessity to dominate the game and to impose his will on his teammates and the opposition. This is what Wade implored James to do and this is what Kobe Bryant consistently did while winning five championships with the L.A. Lakers; until the past couple seasons the difference between Bryant and James was that James was reluctant to accept this responsibility. It is fascinating to hear James now admit that before he had that fateful offseason conversation with Wade he did not fully understand the necessary mentality to be a champion; if James had developed that mentality in Cleveland then he could have led the Cavaliers to a championship but he deserves credit for being introspective enough to accept and learn from Wade's sound advice.

James' explanation echoes what Tim Grover told me: "When he was in Miami, Dwyane Wade--having gone through all the trials and tribulations with the Miami Heat, from the (2006) championship to all the way down to being a Lottery team--learned how to deal with all the different levels of adversity and success. He was able to teach LeBron or when he would see LeBron in certain situations playing or in practice he knew how to put LeBron in position to succeed." Prior to Miami winning back to back titles, I often made the point that the only way for the Heat to be successful is for James to accept the responsibility to be the best player on the court. James should never take a back seat to Wade or anyone else--and the idea that the Heat could win a title with James in a secondary role never made any sense to me.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:42 PM

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