NBA TV concluded its coverage of this year's All-Star Weekend with one final showcase of the league's best player, Miami Heat superstar LeBron James.
James sat down with Steve Smith, an NBA veteran that spent four seasons as a member of the Heat, to discuss a wide range of topics including his childhood, his accomplishments as a player and what his future entails.
The dialogue was his most significant since "The Decision," the media event where LeBron announced his plans to join Miami and which eventually led to widespread personal attacks. During that television interview, James seemed nervous and apprehensive.
But four years later, a more-relaxed version of King James was candid about his life and NBA career.
One of Smith's first questions was asking what the Heat's biggest challenge this year was, to which James replied, "...getting back into the flow. The biggest obstacle is us." And when he acknowledged that the team could not afford to keep waiting for motivation, James added, "The process has to begin now."
James spoke at length about how his mother, Gloria, played such an important role in his life. That, as a young African-American struggling with poverty, his mother "figured out a way" to give him everything he needed.
LeBron discussed his first involvement in organized basketball, how his coach explained that, "no individual is bigger than the team," a policy that helped shape James as a teammate and leader.
The television special also included footage of James visiting his former high school, and how he was under a microscope at an early age. That scrutiny continued in 2003 when James was selected first overall in the NBA Draft. As a native of Akron, Ohio, James was crowned as a hometown hero when he began his professional career as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron spoke at length about how he was able to make an early impact, helping the team improve from 17 wins to 35 wins in his first year and the subsequent attempts to bring playoff success to the Cavs. In a rare admission, James said, "I wasn't able to come through in my seven years in Cleveland. The word that creeps in is ‘doubt'."
Smith discussed the beginning of the "Big Three" era next, specifically how James began to play the role of a villain. LeBron explained how "every single game was so heavy on me," especially during road games. He added how the Heat's early season struggles in 2010 forced James and Dwyane Wade to "look at each other and wonder, ‘Are we doing the right thing, here'?"
One anecdote shed light on how both James and Wade were able to coexist as players, especially following the 2011 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. James explained that the loss, "took so much out of me," that he did not leave his room for two weeks. Eventually, Wade convinced James to take a vacation to the Bahamas.
There, according to James, Wade gave up his leadership role of the Heat, telling LeBron, "In order for us to be great, you have to be the guy."
Smith later asked James about his role as a father, one that LeBron said, "came natural to me." James added that the many roles he plays as a father has helped him lead the Heat. In particular, his ability to connect with Miami's varied players allowed him to develop, "a sense of brotherhood in this league that is hard to come by."
Other highlights included James' response that the current player that motivates him most is Kevin Durant, adding that, "the way he plays the game every night is inspiring." LeBron also added that he sees Indiana as the biggest threat to Miami's quest for a third consecutive championship, saying, "they remind me a lot of us after Dallas."
When pressed by Smith, James admitted that he did not know what would happen this summer when free agency looms as an option. James said his current priority is "winning a championship" and that he would have to assess what happens from here to then and then decide what he had to do for his "future."
James also added that his greatest goal is to continue winning championships but that, "rings are only half the battle" when judging how they shape a player's legacy. When asked what individual goal James still wanted to achieve, LeBron answered that winning the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year would be important, particularly because he felt "snubbed the last two years."
Smith concluded the interview with the topic that has dominated the headlines for the past week, James idea of the NBA's Mount Rushmore, the greatest four players of all-time. LeBron explained that by the time his career ended, he would be part of that monument:
I'm going to be one of the top four that's ever played this game, that's for sure. And if they don't want me to have one of those top four spots, they'd better find another spot on that mountain. Somebody's gotta get bumped, but that's not for me to decide. That's for the architects.
All in all, a solid piece of work from Smith to get James to discuss his life, on and off the court. LeBron has rebuilt his image since the fallout from "The Decision" and his willingness to discuss his failures as well as his successes should continue to cement his position as the game's preeminent spokesman.
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