Put LeBron James on a team with Kyrie Irving, one of the game’s top young point guards, and throw in Kevin Love, a 6-foot-9 scorer from the perimeter and in the post, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked to be on their way.
Then the NBA season started. The Cavs were smoked in their season-opener and dismantled Tuesday night in Portland. This is where James showed his most significant growth. He did not show panic or even frustration. He talked of remaining a team, of leading by example, of being patient, of teaching.
Now he is getting it. LeBron James understands the magnitude of his presence.
“There’s a lot of bad habits; a lot of bad habits have been built up over the last couple of years and when you play that style of basketball it takes a lot to get it up out of you,” James said. “But I’m here to help and that’s what it’s about.”
Some of the best leaders in NBA history got it done on the court, confronted teammates when necessary and sent poignant messages through the media. James, in his post-defeat interview, showed he has learned how to send a message to the team without directly speaking to anyone.
“Everyone wants to win, I would hope,” James said. “Would you rather play selfish basketball and lose, or play unselfish basketball and sacrifice and win? So you pick it.”
He was speaking to his new teammates. But were they listening?
The consensus best player on the planet has become adept at the mind games. He low balls expectations so progress can be viewed as special. Cunning.
“Hopefully not too long, but it could go on for a couple months until we’re all on the same page,” he said. Inside he must have been smiling. Taking two months to flow could be tantamount to trouble. . . and inciting a doubting public.
“We know exactly where we need to be both offensively and defensively and we buy in on what it takes to win,” James said. “I think a lot of people get it misconstrued on what it takes to win [by thinking] just scoring or just going out and trying to will it yourself. This is a team game and you have to rely on your teammates as well. So we will get an understanding of that as the time goes on.”
Clearly, James, motivational speaker, has the ear of his teammates. And until things turn around, he will continue to deliver it.