Heat's James will have a hard time topping 2012

Associated PressDecember 24, 2012 

  • Still chasing The King finally got his ring, but LeBron James still has work to do to catch Michael Jordan. He has time, too.
    JamesJordan
    1NBA titles6
    27Age at first title28
    2Olympic gold medals2
    3MVP awards5
    8All-Star appearances14
    2All-Star MVP awards3
    1Scoring titles10
    27.6Career scoring avg.30.1

— Pat Riley has a theory why LeBron James’ journey to basketball’s mountaintop took so long.

Growth, he said, takes time.

“I always use the analogy of the Chinese bamboo tree,” said Riley, the Miami Heat president. “You plant the seed in the ground and it just sits there and 10 years later it grows 100 feet in one year. Over the 10 years, there’s a root structure and a taproot that is growing deeper and deeper and deeper and is embedded in the ground. And when that thing starts growing, it ain’t going anywhere but up.”

That is much like James did in 2012.

It was practically a year beyond compare. James got his first NBA championship, was the league’s MVP for the third time, a unanimous choice as MVP of the NBA Finals, and collected a second Olympic gold medal. And in perhaps the last marquee moment of his year, James and the Heat will play host to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, a Finals rematch on Christmas.

James will be center stage with the Heat-Thunder showdown part of the NBA’s Christmas slate of nationally televised games including: The Boston Celtics vs. the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks against the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets taking on the Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets playing the Los Angeles Clippers.

There are sensational story lines around all those games. But no NBA player did anything in 2012 that matched what James put together.

No longer uncomfortable with the fallout for the way he exercised his right in 2010 to choose his own future, he enjoyed a year loaded with triumphs. James allowed himself to be in the public eye more, heard booing in most road arenas return to normal levels and insists he’s as content as ever.

“I’m driven,” James said, “by something greater.”

He has money. He would figure to contend for several more championships if he remains healthy. He has enormous fame. He is on top of his game and in his prime. James, 27, is averaging 25.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists and the Heat is leading the Eastern Conference with an 18-6 record.

What’s left is legacy, him attempting to ensure he truly becomes one of the greatest.

“You look at some of the greatest companies,” James said. “As great as McDonald’s is, they don’t stop. As great as Nike is, they don’t stop. They keep trying to be innovative and make new, great things for consumers. They don’t stop. They could. They’ve got enough. I look at that as well, as motivation. I want to keep getting better. I want to put myself in position to maximize every little thing that I have.”

That starts with putting himself out there more now. A few weeks ago, he decided to join some friends for an evening bike ride. They pedaled about 20 miles, an outing that proved James has completed a much longer journey.

That night, without any trepidation, he was part of a group of 3,000 people who strapped on helmets and rode through Miami in an effort to promote safety and awareness for bicyclists.

“Two years ago,” James said, “I don’t know if I would have been ready for that.”

There’s no way he would have been ready for that. Not after The Decision and the criticism and all that came with it, part of what he now calls his transformation from the person he was to the person he is.

Turns out, they’re nearly the same, although today’s version might have just wrapped up one of the best years by any athlete.

“He’s still hungry and thirsty for more,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And I think that’s what separates the great ones and the ultimate competitors. He came off of a historic year, able to win the MVP and crown it with the ultimate team goal. … He wants to continue to reinvent himself, get better and drive this team, push this team for a bigger legacy than just a one-title team.”

James recently starred in a commercial for Samsung, one of many companies that pays him for endorsements. This particular spot, though, was more like a snapshot of James’ life, in that it was as genuine as any ad he’s ever done.

There are no actors in the primary roles – his fiancee, his friends, his children, his barber, his teammates, even kids from the LeBron James Family Foundation, they’re all playing themselves in the spot. Two years ago, he never would have asked any of them to be part of an ad campaign, simply to spare them from potential scorn.

That’s no longer a problem.

“I wanted to be real,” he said. “I wanted to go out and say, ‘This is who I am’ and I wanted to do it in commercial form. It’s a commercial, but it’s also actuality. There’s nothing fake about it. I was blessed that we were able to put it together the right way, the way we actually envisioned it.”

Funny how those words now apply to what the Heat did in 2010.

Miami signed James and Chris Bosh, kept Dwyane Wade, added pieces around them and – albeit a year later than planned – became NBA champion. When that moment came, when James knew his wait to become a champion was at last about to end, the first thing he did was bury his head in Bosh’s chest, trying not to cry.

James often says he is “humbled” by awards or praise. Never did he feel more humble in 2012.

His first act of the year – moments after midnight on Jan. 1 – was proposing to girlfriend Savannah Brinson. The way James sees it, that move on bended knee set the tone for everything else to fall into place.

“Can you propose twice?” James asked. “Can I do that again to get another year like this?”

He can’t. But he would.

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