HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sometimes it takes one to know one, a champion.
So when San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich notices and praises Miami Heat star and reigning league MVP LeBron James, who also earned MVP honors in The Finals last season, you know it’s high praise.
Popovich did coach the team that denied LeBron his first crack at a title, back in 2007 when he led the Cleveland Cavaliers into The Finals only to be swept by the mighty Spurs. He would know better than most just how far James has come since then.
And he said as much Sunday before the Heat beat the Spurs in a preseason game over the weekend, telling our main man Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:
“He’s so good already,” Popovich said. “We all know what his skills are. He’s a great passer, he can rebound, he can defend. But I think, if anything, he is maturing mentally in the sense that he is enjoying playing the game. He doesn’t listen to talking heads (media critics) anymore — or a lot less than when he first came in the league.”
When informed of those comments after the game, James told ESPN.com that Popovich’s assessment was on point.
“I appreciate that,” James said as he left AmericanAirlines Arena. “Pop knows what he’s talking about. That’s why he’s one of the best to ever coach this game.”
Their whole mutual admiration society bit aside, even LeBron’s biggest critics would have to admit that he made great strides the past two years. The agony and pain of defeat in The Finals, this time at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, paved the way for his most remarkable season, to date.
Where he goes from there is up to him. But with the mental and even emotional growth noted by Popovich, there is no reason to think LeBron will ease up now.