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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Drive Down Glory Road

This is why Lebron James is capable of being the superstar that could reach even (gasp!) Michael Jordan's level. Read this interview with King James, and you can't help but be struck by his sense of history, responsibility, and recognition of his place - current and future - in the world of basketball. My favorite part:

Right now it's important I establish my credentials as our leader. When you come into the league, you think it's all basketball, but basketball is only about 10 percent to 20 percent of what it takes to be in the NBA. You've got the off-the-court obligations and distractions, you've got the on-the-court things, you've got the media. Now that I understand that, I'm 10 times the leader I was the past two seasons. I'm the type who can lead by example and I can also lead by speaking up. When I need to get vocal, I get vocal. I have no problem speaking up and letting my teammates know what the deal is.

But for them to listen, I can't just talk. I have to show them I'm dedicated to improving as a player. I feel like if I improve certain aspects of my game, our team automatically will improve, so I was extremely motivated last summer to get better. I knew I couldn't come back the same player I was last year, and I put in a ton of time on my outside shooting. Last year, I felt defenders were slacking off me too much, just playing me to drive. I shot jumpers over the summer until my shoulders started to hurt. Now my jump shot's a lot better. I also worked on my lateral quickness to help my D.

One of the best players in almost every facet of the game works hard to improve every season? Who'd have thunk! He'd promised to unveil a new facet of his game in the first game of the season... and hit 6 of 7 3-pointers. He's playing as a small forward, but he's really acting like a guard-forward - and yet, he's the only guy in the top 20 in scoring other than Elton Brand shooting over 50% from the field. This, despite taking 4.6 3-pointers a game (and making 35% of them). Then, there's the absolutely ridiculous stat lines, averaging 30.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.77 steals. More importantly, look at the month-to-month progression:

By MonthGMINFGM-FGAFG%3PM-3PA3P%FTM-FTAFT%STLBLKREB
ASTPTS
November 14 39.9 9.8-20.0 48.9 1.4-4.1 .351 7.4-9.0 81.7 1.64 0.93 6.0 4.5 28.4
December 14 43.2 11.2-22.2 50.4 1.6-4.6 .354 8.3-11.3 73.4 1.86 0.93 6.4 6.8 32.4
January 3 45.0 13.0-23.3 55.7 2.7-7.3 .364 4.3-7.3 59.0 2.00 0.67 9.0 7.3 33.0

Okay, so this month's numbers are after just 3 games. But just from November to December, his FG% rose 1.5%; he scored 4 more points, grabbed an extra .4 boards, and dished out another 2.3 assists - while stealing another .22 balls a game. Then there's his dedication:

Missing the playoffs the past two seasons was the motivation. I've been used to being an automatic winner, just going onto the court knowing no team could beat us. But my first year in the league, I didn't feel that way. Now I'm at a point where I feel like every time we play, we're going to win. I'm not saying I know we're going to win a championship this year. That takes time. It took Jordan seven years, Shaq eight. If we keep getting better, I don't think I'll have to wait eight years.

It's funny: the years fly by so fast that you can get to Year 3 and be like, wow, it seems like my rookie year. But you know what they say: great things come to those who are patient.

Well, Cleveland has been waiting a while. It's nice to start seeing the greatness.

Here, watch some.

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