On eve of Heat camp, James takes center stage

In one breath, LeBron James insisted that he’s moved past the

venom directed his way after he chose to join the Miami Heat. In

the next, the NBA’s two-time reigning MVP said all those naysayers

out there are his fuel.

Which rings true?

Apparently, both.

”I don’t want to keep harping about what people have said about

me,” James said. ”But personally, I’m motivated by what has gone

on this summer.”

Music to the collective Heat ears, right there. Donning his new

Heat home uniform and spending the afternoon flanked by fellow star

teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James began a new Miami

chapter Monday, hours before his team was to fly north for training

camp in Florida’s Panhandle.

Since ”The Decision,” as it’s known, James has been called a

quitter by Cleveland owner and former boss Dan Gilbert, had his

competitiveness questioned by the Orlando Magic, heard Dallas owner

Mark Cuban say he made a bad business deal, and found himself

taking note of what was written and said by countless pundits.

It’s all made James feel like he has something to prove

again.

”It’s funny how things happen in life and how people react,”

James said. ”It seems like a lot of people try to tell you what to

do with your life and most of the time they don’t even have their

own life in order. That was just funny to me. So I’m really excited

for this opportunity for this franchise, getting an opportunity to

bring my game to this city.”

James signed a $109.8 million, six-year deal with Miami on July

9, one day after starring in an hourlong TV special to announce he

was leaving Cleveland. He hasn’t reached out to Gilbert, but has

spoken with teammates he left behind and predicts Cleveland could

exceed outside expectations this season.

Here in Miami, the Heat can’t exceed expectations, only meet

them. This team was built to win titles, and James shrugged off the

notion this season was ”championship-or-bust.”

”Not bust,” James said. ”But it is championship.”

”Ditto,” Wade added. ”What he said.”

It won’t be easy, of course, which will be the message Heat

coach Erik Spoelstra begins instilling Tuesday morning at Hurlburt

Field, the U.S. Air Force installation where Miami’s journey will

begin.

Spoelstra and James have gotten to know each other a bit over

the summer, from voluntary workouts at the team’s arena to some

lunches where conversations often drifted away from basketball. A

bond is getting forged already, much like the one Spoelstra and

Wade quickly began sharing seven years ago.

”He’s been very serious,” Spoelstra said. ”He’s a motivated

player right now. I think it took a tremendous amount of courage to

take the step that he did. It is a step of faith to come to our

franchise, to really sacrifice so many things, to subject himself

to possible criticism, to come to a franchise where he wants to be

part of something even if that means he has to give up a little

part of himself.”

James isn’t totally settled in Miami yet. He is still apparently

searching for a permanent home, hasn’t even figured out the traffic

patterns or scouted out the most efficient way to get to the arena

for workouts and games.

But he did clear up some issues: His elbow, a problem in

Cleveland’s season-ending playoff series with Boston last spring,

is pain-free again. He remains convinced he made the right

decision. His family is thrilled about the prospects of Miami. And

he already feels a bond with teammates that he didn’t know as well

as he did Wade and Bosh before choosing to join the Heat.

”The game of basketball is fun,” James said. ”This summer has

been probably one of the longest summers I’ve had, not in a bad

way, but it’s just been a long summer. The game will always be fun

to me. I can’t wait to get out to practice tomorrow. But it’s all

about business for me. It’s less antics and more about the game of

basketball. We’re ready.”

His role remains undefined in Miami, strange as that sounds for

a reigning MVP. Spoelstra’s deadpan line throughout the summer has

been that he’s pretty sure on who three of his starters will be

come opening night. The other two jobs will be decided in the

coming weeks – and with them, it’ll be known how much James and

Wade are called upon to handle the ball.

James said he doesn’t care how his job is defined.

”I can do everything,” he said.

And with that statement comes another dichotomy. He came to

Miami, he said, partly because he didn’t want to have to shoulder

an overwhelming amount of the workload in a championship quest. He

tried it that way in Cleveland, never winning the ring he

seeks.

So in Miami, he won’t do everything. Doesn’t think he’ll have

to, either.

”We all understand this is the ultimate team sport,” James

said. ”No one can win it all by himself. I know that by

example.”