MIAMI — When LeBron James was 8, his pee-wee basketball coach insisted he learn to make layups with his left hand.
James wasn’t too happy about that.
“He used to cry about it,” said Frank Walker, James’ coach when he was growing up in Akron, Ohio . “He used to say, ‘I can’t do it.’ But I told him that you can’t play this game without using both hands. I told him, ‘You’re going to need a left-handed layup one of these days.'”
Well, the Miami star needed it in Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana . His left-handed layup at the buzzer gave the Heat a 103-102 overtime win
It was the second time James has won a game this season with a last-ditch left-handed layup. The Heat beat Orlando 97-96 on March 6 when James put one in with 3.2 seconds left.
“I give credit to my Little League coach, Frank Walker Sr.,” James said after that game about Walker’s lessons 20 years ago.
After Wednesday’s dramatic win, James looked back. He said, “I’ve been doing that since I was 8 years old.”
Then following Thursday’s practice, James again mentioned Walker .
“Frank Walker, my Little League basketball coach, taught me how to make a left-handed layup,” James said. “He wouldn’t let me dribble the ball until I got the right steps down and the right (form) to make a left-handed layup consistently. And so we used to do it before practice every day and during practice, and he always told me, ‘You know, you’ll be a much better player if you learn how to make shots with both hands.'”
Asked Thursday about all the attention he’s been getting lately for his role in James’ development, Walker laughed.
“Well, I told him he would need it,” Walker said. “But I’m very proud at what he’s done.”
So what were some of the secrets in Walker teaching James how to use his left hand so well?
“We used to have one drill where you had to put your right hand in your pocket and dribble with your left hand and another where you had to put your right hand behind your back and dribble,” Walker said. “Then we had a chase-down drill. You would have to go in for a left-handed layup and another player was chasing you so you wouldn’t learn to be bothered by that.”
It worked. Walker said James’ opposite hand is so good now that “you’d think he were left-handed.’’
Through the years, James has continued to thank Walker for teaching him how to use that hand so effectively. When James played for Cleveland from 2003-10, Walker regularly made the 45-minute drive from Akron for Cavaliers home games.
“If he made a move and he used his left hand, I’d be sitting courtside and he’d just kind of give me a look,” Walker said.
Now that James is playing in Miami , Walker can’t be found courtside. But James still can offer his thanks whenever he makes a big left-handed shot.