In 2011, after weeks of residing in a self-constructed bunker after the loss to Dallas, James realizes that he must close off parts of his brain to make it happen, play some tricks on his mind. Addition by distraction. And in 2012, when the playoffs come again, he shuts off his phone, stops watching TV, stops reading the Internet. He starts reading novels like "The Hunger Games," his free time focused on Katniss Everdeen instead of the fallout and consequences of his many past mistakes.
It's an understood routine by now, so understood that there's even an app for that -- one that lets fans get their James social media fix while he's in his postseason unplugged mode. His reading material is passed on in reporters' notes columns without fanfare. (His most recent read, for those hosting LeBron James Book Clubs, is "The Meaning of Life," by Bradley Trevor Greive.)
That's the challenge, because you play so many different situations in your head throughout the game that sometimes it could [be hard] getting into what's really important." - LeBron James
All of which has made it easy to take for granted -- and to minimize the condition that lingers behind the prescription. In fact, one of the greatest moves in James' career might well have been his realization last year that he was letting the flood of images and bad feelings from 2007 grip him in 2013. The memory was invading. But James was not about to give up ground he had already seized, and he grasped that in time to save it.
"That's the challenge," James says, "because you play so many different situations in your head throughout the game that sometimes it could [be hard] getting into what's really important."
And so, in 2013, James fights back -- calling on other files, more positive ones. He recovers for a dominating back half of the Finals to beat the Spurs, scoring 32 points in Game 6 and a brilliant 37 in Game 7, when he buries fearless jump shots despite immense pressure to deliver. Had Ray Allen not hit the unlikeliest of 3-pointers in Game 6, of course, the narrative might have turned on James yet again. Still, the way James sees it, the memory is now a weapon that, like his others, has only grown more potent -- and less problematic.
"It's allowed me to see things before they happen, put guys in position, kind of read my teammates, knowing who is out of rhythm, who is in rhythm, knowing the score, the time, who has it going on the other end, knowing their likes and dislikes and being able to calibrate all that into a game situation," James says. "That's very challenging, but it comes natural. It can help your team out."
It is quite an experience to watch a game along with James. He will occasionally call out plays another team is about to run, yelling, "Watch the back door," just before Chris Paul fires a strike to Blake Griffin for a dunk. Aided by a matrix of television screens at his home, James will often watch multiple games at once, and his study of the league can make him seem like a soothsayer. What is the New Orleans Pelicans' pet play out of timeouts? Where does DeMar DeRozan like to get the ball late in the shot clock? James has seen it. He knows it. And he will be ready when his mind needs it.