Last night I watched the Miami Heat crush the Indiana pacers to win the Eastern Conference Finals. This victory was notable for two reasons: the Pacers were designed to beat the Heat and their defense specifically created to stop LeBron James. Neither came to pass and LeBron explained why in a recent interview on Sports Center after a game against the Dallas Mavericks. LeBron said something profound about the unintended benefit from the Heat losing to the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA finals:
“This team is the reason why I am the player I am today. They beat us and when they beat us and I went into a place I hadn’t been before. I went back to the fundamentals of the game. I went back to breaking down every aspect of my game to get better because I didn’t perform at the level I could have or should have during those finals. I went back to my hometown and spent the whole summer [working on my game]. So the Mavericks are why I am the player I am today.”
LeBron’s attitude is an act of exceptional humility combined with the drive to succeed. He admitted he made embarrassing mistakes against the Mavericks. He admitted he wasn’t perfect, that he didn’t know everything and that he could get better. In countless interviews LeBron says that he and the team have to continue to get better. It is not just rhetoric. He believes it and because he believes it he is the game’s greatest player.
If it is good enough for LeBron, what is your excuse? I have said many times before that there is no gene, no innate talent, no instinct for trial practice. It is all skill that can be mastered. But being athletically gifted is not enough. Sport is a cruel master. A zero sum game. All the practice in the world can’t substitute for raw talent. But even for LeBron James, the King, the world’s greatest athlete, raw talent is not enough.
Addendum: The Heat went on to face the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 championship series, losing 4 to 1 to the Spurs in lopsided games. This should give LeBron even more motivation to practice and succeed even though he played well.