These are the moments LeBron James thrives on. Offseason workouts, training camp, regular season grind, all those instances add up to the ultimate goal — competing for another championship in the NBA Finals.
On Thursday, James will embark on the final stages of his quest for the Miami HEAT’s third consecutive title as they take on the San Antonio Spurs. He is still as hungry now in his fifth trip to the championship round as he was when he entered the league 11 years ago.
“I was a kid who watched so many Finals appearances,” James said on Wednesday. “Watched Michael Jordan and watched Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and Kobe (Bryant), and we watched throwback Finals games of Magic (Johnson) and (Larry) Bird and Isiah (Thomas) and Hakeem (Olajuwon) in the Finals. I just wished maybe I could see the Finals verbiage behind me and be a part of this. … I don’t need extra motivation. This is motivating enough.”
After seven seasons of falling short on the Cleveland Cavaliers, James began making winning look easy after just his first season with the HEAT. The target on his back for being the NBA’s most dominant player doesn’t hinder him. James is once again thriving in the postseason, averaging 27.1 points (on 56.2 percent from the field), 6.8 rebounds, five assists and 1.8 steals in 15 playoff games.
With that type of performance comes comparisons to the game’s greats. Following the HEAT’s defeat of the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, head coach Frank Vogel said, “We’re competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era.” This was not the first time James has been referenced with Hall of Famers, nor will it be the last. The comments are meaningful to the student of the game.
“Obviously in all our eyes Michael Jordan is the greatest player to ever play our game,” James said. “So to be in the same breath as Michael Jordan is very humbling, and it let’s me know that I’ve done something right so far.”
With those comparisons come high expectations. Even though he is only 29 years old, James has accomplished so much in his career that there is already chatter of what his legacy will be when he steps away from the game. A third championship would be yet another achievement that sets him apart, but he isn’t fazed by how he could be perceived down the road based on how he plays in this upcoming round.
“As far as the pressure, I put no pressure on this Finals,” James said. “I don’t really care what people say about me, or how people categorize my so‑called legacy or the way they think I should be. I play this game at a high level and put myself in the position to help our team succeed. I play for my teammates, our team, the city of Miami, my friends and family, and I gave it all for that. At the end of the day win, lose or draw I’m satisfied with that. I don’t get involved in what people say about me and my legacy, I think it’s actually kind of stupid.”
When it comes to the stars who came before him, James has never approached them about what it takes to get to the NBA Finals. He did speak to Thomas and Jerry West following the HEAT’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 championship and received “some great pointers that I like to keep in my Rolodex, until I decide to write a book when I’m done.”
Aside from that, James prefers to take his own approach to chasing his goal year after year — staying hungry regardless of how many times he has tasted victory.
“Even though I’ve got so many great words from Isiah and Jerry West, you can only live in your own life and on your own path and make your own course,” he said. “And I’ve been fortunate enough to do that.”
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