Heat’s LeBron James talks about 2012, what’s ahead

Pat Riley has a theory why LeBron James’ journey to basketball’s

mountaintop took so long.

Growth, he said, takes time.

”I always use the analogy of the Chinese bamboo tree,” said

the Miami Heat president. ”You plant the seed in the ground and it

just sits there and 10 years later it grows 100 feet in one year.

Over the 10 years, there’s a root structure and a taproot that is

growing deeper and deeper and deeper and is embedded in the ground.

And when that thing starts growing, it ain’t going anywhere but


That is, much like James did in 2012.

It was practically a year beyond compare. James got his first

NBA championship, was the league’s MVP for the third time, a

unanimous choice as MVP of the NBA Finals, and collected a second

Olympic gold medal. And in perhaps the last marquee moment of his

year, James and the Heat play host to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, a

Finals rematch on Christmas.

James will be center stage with the Heat-Thunder showdown part

of the NBA’s Christmas slate of nationally televised games

including: The Boston Celtics vs. the Brooklyn Nets, New York

Knicks against the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets taking on

the Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets squaring off against the

Los Angeles Clippers.

And there are some sensational story lines around all those


But no NBA player did anything in 2012 that matched what James

put together.

No longer uncomfortable with the fallout for the way he

exercised his right in 2010 to choose his own future, he enjoyed a

year loaded with triumphs. James allowed himself to be in the

public eye more, heard booing in most road arenas return to normal

levels and insists he’s as content as ever.

”I’m driven,” James said, ”by something greater.”

He has money. He would figure to contend for several more

championships if he remains healthy. He has enormous fame. He is on

top of his game and in his prime. The 27-year-old James is

averaging 25.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists and the Heat

are leading the Eastern Conference with an 18-6 record.

What’s left is legacy, him attempting to ensure he truly becomes

one of the greatest.

”You look at some of the greatest companies,” James said. ”As

great as McDonald’s is, they don’t stop. As great as Nike is, they

don’t stop. They keep trying to be innovative and make new, great

things for consumers. They don’t stop. They could. They’ve got

enough. I look at that as well, as motivation. I want to keep

getting better. I want to put myself in position to maximize every

little thing that I have.”

That starts with putting himself out there more now.

A few weeks ago, James decided to join some friends for an

evening bike ride. They pedaled about 20 miles that evening, an

outing that proved James has completed a much longer journey.

That night, without any trepidation, James was part of a group

of 3,000 people who strapped on helmets and rode through Miami in

an effort to promote safety and awareness for bicyclists.

”Two years ago,” James said, ”I don’t know if I would have

been ready for that.”

There’s no way he would have been ready for that. Not after The

Decision and the criticism and all that came with it, part of what

he now calls his transformation from the person he was to the

person he is.

Turns out, they’re nearly the same, although today’s version may

have just wrapped up one of the best years by any athlete.

”He’s still hungry and thirsty for more,” Heat coach Erik

Spoelstra said. ”And I think that’s what separates the great ones

and the ultimate competitors. He came off of a historic year, able

to win the MVP and crown it with the ultimate team goal. … He

wants to continue to reinvent himself, get better and drive this

team, push this team for a bigger legacy than just a one-title


James recently starred in a commercial for Samsung, one of many

companies that pay him for endorsements. This particular spot,

though, was more like a snapshot of James’ life, in that it was as

genuine as any ad he’s ever done.

There’s no actors in the primary roles – his fiancee, his

friends, his children, his barber, his teammates, even the kids

from the LeBron James Family Foundation, they’re all playing

themselves in the spot. Two years ago, James never would have asked

any of them to be part of an ad campaign, simply to spare them from

potential scorn.

That’s no longer a problem.

”I wanted to be real,” James said. ”I wanted to go out and

say, `This is who I am’ and I wanted to do it in commercial form.

It’s a commercial, but it’s also actuality. There’s nothing fake

about it. I was blessed that we were able to put it together the

right way, the way we actually envisioned it.”

Funny how those words now apply to what the Heat did in


They signed James and Chris Bosh, kept Dwyane Wade, added pieces

around them and – albeit a year later than they planned – became

NBA champions. When that moment came, when James knew his wait to

become a champion was at last about to end, the first thing he did

was bury his head in Bosh’s chest, trying not to cry.

James often says he is ”humbled” by awards or praise. Never

did he feel more humble in 2012.

His first act of the year – moments after midnight on Jan. 1 –

was proposing to girlfriend Savannah Brinson. The way James sees

it, that move on bended knee set the tone for everything else to

fall into place.

”Can you propose twice?” James asked. ”Can I do that again to

get another year like this?”

He can’t. But he would.