Total Recall: LeBron's mighty mind

"I can usually remember plays in situations a couple of years back -- quite a few years back sometimes," James says. "I'm able to calibrate them throughout a game to the situation I'm in, to know who has it going on our team, what position to put him in.

"I'm lucky to have a photographic memory," he will add, "and to have learned how to work with it."

If there's one thing that can be said about the study of the human brain -- and especially the field of memory -- it's that even today, it's notable less for what is known than for how much is not known. The workings of our head-sponges remain, for the most part, a mystery. But if there are areas of consensus in the field of neurology, one of them is that the notion of "photographic memory," in which a person can take mental snapshots and recall every detail at a later time, has never been proved to exist.

This is not to say that James is lying when he describes his total recall. The evidence appears strong that his memory banks are loaded up like Fort Knox. Rather, what James might be describing appears more likely to be a version of "eidetic memory," which is, essentially, the medical term for crazy, crazy freakish recall. And although eidetic memory appears to take many forms -- some claim to be able to "read" pages in their mind, others to "replay" their memories as if pressing play on streaming video -- those who claim the ability often share one trait: They are as cursed by it as they are blessed by it.

When an entire life is perpetually available, that life exists, in a sense, forever in present tense. And sifting through a perpetual and onrushing flood of memories? That's apparently less fun than it sounds.

It's hard, after all, to erase bad memories when you can't erase any of them at all.


It's June 2013, and James is riding back to the team hotel after Game 3 of the NBA Finals in San Antonio, with the Spurs having crushed the Heat by 36 points to take a 2-1 series lead. James was 7-of-21 shooting this night and in the midst of a poor Finals performance. Over the first three games, he was shooting just 38 percent and averaging 16.6 points, stunningly low numbers after what has been inarguably the finest season of his career. On the bus, he turns and confides to a friend.

"

At times his memory can be a bad thing, because he remembers his failures, too.

" - Erik Spoelstra

"I'm thinking too much," James says, "about 2007."

It's 2007, and James has been humbled by the Spurs in a four-game sweep in the Finals. Coach Gregg Popovich has not respected the ability of the Cavs' 23-year-old phenom to shoot, no matter what James had done to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals the week before. So Popovich backs his defense off, ordering his players to encircle the paint and make James prove he can execute from the outside.

He cannot. James shoots a miserable 36 percent in the series. His shaky jumper is unable to deliver under pressure. It's a crushing series for James, who looks like an undergrad who's arrived at a final exam for which he's forgotten to study. At the conclusion of Game 4, with the wound still fresh, James swears he will radically adjust his level of focus and his attention to detail.

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