Even with another MVP, LeBron James focused on improving
LeBron James will win his 4th MVP trophy, but he and his teammates say he hasn't reached his zenith yet.
By CHRIS TOMASSONFS Florida
MIAMI —LeBron James has a ceiling as high and as appealing as that of the Sistine Chapel.
The Miami Heat forward Sunday will become the fifth NBA player to have won at least four MVP awards. But nobody thinks for a minute this guy is slowing down, and he probably hasn’t even hit his peak.
James, 28, joked after practice Saturday his teammates “told me to win 11 more (MVPs) so I can spread them out to everybody. So I got 15 of them (one for each player on the Heat).’’
OK, 11 more might be stretching it. But Miami guard Dwyane Wade sees no reason James won’t eventually break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of six MVPs.
“Why not?’’ Wade said. “He’s got four. He’s got a long time to play. I think he can.’’
One reason is James keeps getting better. Just when nobody thought he could top the efficiency he displayed last season, when he won his third MVP and first with the Heat, he went out and shot a career-high 56.5 percent, including a career-high 40.6 percent from 3-point range.
“I don’t know my ceiling,’’ James said. “I won’t stop trying to improve my game …. I want to continue to maximize what I have. I don’t know what the ceiling is, where it’s at, or how high or how close I am to the top of it. But hopefully I can continue to push through.’’
James is about five months younger than Abdul-Jabbar was when he was two weeks shy of his 29th birthday and handed his fourth MVP in April 1976. Although Abdul-Jabbar won two more trophies and played a whopping 13 more seasons, he didn’t become more dominant.
While three other legends remained superstars after winning a fourth MVP, they didn't continue to take giant leaps. Bill Russell, who added one more MVP, was 29 when he got his fourth. Wilt Chamberlain was 31. Michael Jordan, who also added one more, was 33.
"Just to hear it,'' James said about joining an elite club. "Just to see it. See the class. It's MJ, Kareem, Wilt and Russell that were able to win four. I know. I'm a historian of the game. I know the game. I know these guys paved the way for myself and the rest of us …. So it's very humbling.''
James was humbled last year when he became the eighth player to win a third MVP and then followed it up with his first championship. But that didn’t mean he rested on his laurels.
He got better. In addition to having the best shooting season of his 10-year career, he averaged a career-high 8.0 rebounds. He also put up typical James numbers with averages of 26.8 points and 7.3 assists.
“He’s taken his game to another level,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Reinvented himself, stayed uncomfortable, did not become complacent after last year’s success. That’s what the great ones do.’’
But can James become even greater?
“I got room for improvement,’’ James said. “I can’t tell you (what will be worked on). Then the scouting report will be out. I will be a better player next year. I will continue to improve.’’
James might not offer what he believes needs improvement, but there is somebody who will. That would be Keith Dambrot, once James’ coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, and now a guy who won’t hesitate to tell James what he needs to get better at.
“I used to tell people that he was only playing at about 70 percent of what he could because he has so much ability,’’ Dambrot, now the coach of the University of Akron, said about when James was starring for Cleveland and winning his first two MVPs for the
Cavaliers in 2009 and 2010. “He was just scratching the surface. Now, I’d say he’s at about 90 to 92 percent.
“He still could be a better offensive rebounder. He could be a better defensive rebounder. He could move better without the ball. He could still work on his low-post moves.’’
James keeps raising the bar higher. Heat center Chris Bosh wouldn’t be surprised at seeing numbers continue to shoot up for James.
“Maybe next year he’ll shoot like 70 percent,’’ Bosh said.
James has continued to improve despite all the hype surrounding him. He’s now been in the national limelight for more 11 years.
It really started when James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in February 2002 when he was 17 and a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary. James admitted Saturday he “didn’t know how big it was’’ at first and thought he “was on another basketball magazine.’’
Well, James certainly knows how big things were when he was the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft by Cleveland straight out from high school. He’s now done the unthinkable and his play has out-hyped the hype machine.
“I think I’ve been able to exceed expectations because I didn’t get involved in it,’’ James said.
James’ latest honor will be officially announced Sunday. NBA Commissioner David Stern will hand him another Maurice Podoloff Trophy before Monday’s Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Then James will go back to work, trying to win another NBA title. Then he’ll focus during the offseason on, yes, getting better.
“He understands the gift that God gave him and he understands that not many have it and it doesn’t last for too long,’’ Wade said. “And he wants to make sure he maximizes all of it.’’
One gets the feeling James will do just that.
“Who wouldn’t love to continue to play at an MVP level in their mid-30s?’’ James said.