LeBron's Hall of Fame lessons


MIAMI -- After midnight Wednesday morning, about an hour after the San Antonio Spurs humbled the Miami Heat in Game 3, LeBron James trudged to the podium wearing a workout shirt and shorts.

James' outfits for his on-camera arena arrivals and postgame news conferences are picked out well in advance on the advice of stylists. But this apparently was his form of protest. He wasn't thrilled to be tugged to the interview room after a 111-92 loss when he had seven turnovers, the most he's ever had in 20 career Finals games.

"There we go," James said when asked about the turnovers, "it's a new storyline for LeBron."

This devil-may-care attitude after such a loss -- the Heat weren't all that rattled considering this is the fifth time they've fallen behind the Spurs in the Finals over the last two years -- is just the latest example of how James has attempted to move criticism, justified or absurd, into his psyche's trash folder.

It may come off as a mixture of arrogance and aloofness, but it's truly nothing of the sort. It's taken him a long time to find this frame of mind.

Some of it dates back to a midsummer day in 2011, when Jerry West's phone buzzed with an unpleasant request: a frank conversation about the most miserable days of his life.

West hates talking about much of his past and tries to avoid thinking about it, part of a lifelong process of walling off the failures that so often defined his Hall of Fame playing career. But the voice on the other end of this call was pained, too, and reaching out for a shoulder to cry on.

James takes pride in mentoring younger players; it's something he's actively sought to do as he grows into one of the game's elder statesmen. So long as his phone is on and it's not during a playoff series, James is in contact year-round with a wide range of young players from high school kids to college stars to his own contemporaries.

When it comes to being mentored, though, James is quite the opposite. He rarely has sought the council of elders -- at least when it comes to basketball. Sometimes on business matters he will go to Jay Z or Lynn Merritt, the Nike executive with whom he has a long and strong relationship. On investing, he sometimes reaches out to Warren Buffett.

"No one has had the same path I've had so I will just go my own way and take the experiences as they come." 

That is a quote from James' rookie season in 2003, and he hasn't changed his philosophy much since. It's one of the reasons he never developed a relationship with Michael Jordan or  Kobe Bryant.

After losing the 2011 Finals in six games to the Dallas Mavericks, he broke down and reached out to West and Isiah Thomas, looking for help in coping with the lowest point in his career.

"First, I was flattered he called, but then I told him, 'I won most outstanding player in college and MVP of the Finals in years when my team lost, and do you know how that felt?'" West told ESPN.com this week. "'It felt like I wanted to quit basketball forever, that's what it felt like.'

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