MIAMI – The Miami Heat’s drive for a third straight championship begins Tuesday in the Bahamas, a trip that head coach Erik Spoelstra called “a little bit of a mental reward for what we accomplished last year.”
But there will be no settling for two championships, especially from the Heat’s two biggest stars, who spelled out their motivation for further success at Media Day on Monday.
“I want to be the greatest of all-time,” LeBron James said bluntly. “That’s my motivation. It’s that simple and it’s not that simple.”
That crown currently sits on the top of Michael Jordan’s head in the minds of most. But James has been the best player in the world for five seasons, he has clearly gotten over whatever was holding him back in big moments before 2012, and he took his game to a whole ‘nother level last season. At this point, the thought of him eventually taking Jordan’s spot is impossible to dismiss.
James isn’t worried about how other people rank him, though.
“It’s not to be the greatest of all-time in anyone else’s book or how they judge the greats,” he said. “It’s for me. I feel like I have a potential to continue to get better and maximize my time while I’m able to play this game of basketball. I want to be the greatest. That’s my motivation. That’s all I need.”
In his eyes, he’s still got a long way to go to surpass his idol.
“I’m far away from it,” he said, “but I see the light.”
And if the other 29 teams didn’t have enough to worry about, James said he got better this summer.
“I’m a better basketball player than I was last year in every aspect, he said. “I feel very comfortable and confident in my game right now.”
With James on that “greatest of all-time” path, Dwyane Wade knows his place.
“I’m the second option,” he said Monday. “But I’m a pretty good second option for this team. I’m one of the only second options that averages 20 points a game. That’s not bad at all.”
Questions surround Wade’s health, of course. After suffering a bone bruise, he struggled down the stretch of last season and shot 35 percent from outside the paint in the playoffs.
On Monday, Spoelstra downplayed the long-term outlook on Wade’s knees.
“There’s a major misconception, a major misconception about his health and where he was last year,” the coach said. “He had one of his most efficient, productive years, up until the point he had the bone bruise.
“It was a bone bruise. It wasn’t a knee issue of wear and tear, something completely different.”
Wade said he’s “feeling a lot better,” but will go at his own pace in training camp and the preseason. Until he’s at full speed and looking as explosive as he has in the past, the questions will remain.
But like James, Wade provides his own motivation.
“I always enter [the season] with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “People always think something about something. I play with that chip just because of who I am and where I come from. I’ll always play that way. My thing is to prove myself right more so than to prove you wrong. That’s kind of how I approach things.”
(He just happened to write a note to himself that was inspired by something Kevin Durant said.)
Though they have their own individual goals, James and Wade both know that this is a team sport. To consider himself the best ever, James must win more championships. No one will question Wade’s health if he’s still standing in June. And with much of the Heat roster on expiring contracts (or contracts with options next summer), time itself is plenty motivation.
“I think we understand the team that we have,” Wade said, “and understand that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us as a group. And we want to take advantage of it as much as possible.”