OKLAHOMA CITY — Having been here twice before and leaving empty-handed, Heat star LeBron James knows better than to take any of this for granted.
That’s why he laughed when asked if he was disappointed that none of his trips to The Finals have included a dream matchup against Lakers star Kobe Bryant, the only other player of this era who stirs as much debate and commands as much attention as James does.
“LeBron and Kobe?” James said, shaking his head and then breaking into a smile. “I was disappointed that LeBron [versus] whoever it was didn’t happen. I didn’t give a damn if it was Kobe or not. Listen, I understand it’s LeBron and (Kevin) Durant — that’s you guys’ storylines. I’m in the Finals so it doesn’t matter. I don’t care who it’s against. It could be us against a college team or high school team.”
As many as have stated in the lead up to Game 1 of The Finals tonight, this is a different James than the youngster who showed up in 2007 with Cleveland and was swept by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs or the James who showed up with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat last year and fell to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks.
James seems more at ease with himself and with his surroundings this time around, carrying his reading selection (Jay-Z‘s Decoded) with him at shootaround.
Maybe it’s his past experiences or the realization that the third time, at least for him, comes with a clear understanding of not only what’s at stake but also what needs to be done to finally finish the job.
Or maybe it has more to do with a season-long easing of the pressure he faced last year, his first with the Heat and away from his family back in Northeast Ohio. James said having everyone under the same roof at home and being in a comfort zone this season has meant everything to him.
“Last year was the first time I was without my family, my immediate family,” he said, “so to have my fiance and my kids move down to Miami, my mom spend a lot more time down there this year, I was just more comfortable. The lockout, as bad as it was, it helped me out a lot because it helped me establish my family down in Miami from that time I had off from not playing. I was able to get comfortable, my family was able to get comfortable and my kids were able to get in school and enrolled. Once the season started in late December I was comfortable and ready to go.”
A third KIA Most Valuable Player award-winning season and a second straight trip to the The Finals later, it’s clear that whatever James had going on this season worked for him.
“I think everyone knows that when you have stability at home your work becomes that much easier,” James said. “And that comes from being a basketball player or being a reporter or whatever, it doesn’t matter. When you have stability at home, everything else just falls into place.”