Because he has a competitive side, LeBron James conceded the ending to this 2019-20 NBA season might not sit well with him.
James has experienced plenty of elation, winning three NBA championships. He has experienced plenty of frustration, falling in six other NBA Finals. But how will he wrestle with the Los Angeles Lakers possibly failing to win an NBA title for reasons that have nothing to do with losing to a superior opponent, should the season be canceled altogether due to the coronavirus pandemic?
“I don’t think I would be able to have any closure if we don’t have the opportunity to finish this season,” James said Wednesday on a Zoom call.
Because he has a positive attitude, however, James has kept everything in perspective. James considers the general public’s health a far more important issue than if the NBA can resume its season. James expressed more concern over how this pandemic has hurt those that worked for a small business, restaurant or hotel. James shared his respect for teachers guiding their students through online classes during this past month of social distancing.
When it came to basketball, James sounded both brutally honest and relentlessly positive.
“Closure? No,” James said. “But to be proud to what we’ve been able to accomplish at this point, I’ll look back and know we did something special in that small period of time.”
It might be easy to dismiss what the Lakers accomplished. Yes, with both James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers are supposed to be contenders. But it is not that simple.
Before the NBA suspended the season on March 11 following Utah center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19, the Lakers (49-14) had the Western Conference’s best record for reasons beyond their top-level talent.
Frank Vogel entered this season as the Lakers’ third choice as head coach with a staff that the front office influenced. Those in NBA circles thought that would soon result in Vogel struggling to win respect and assistant coach Jason Kidd eventually taking his spot.
James entered the season only a few months removed from missing 27 games due to a strained left groin. Instead of succumbing to Father Time, the 35-year-old James delayed it and entered the regular-season MVP conversation.
Davis entered the season with criticism about his departure from New Orleans and skepticism about his persistent injury history. But he became a perfect partner for James with his post presence and defense, with minimal ailments and zero drama.
The Lakers had acquired a handful of new players, including a dependable shooter (Danny Green), a locker-room stalwart (Jared Dudley), a stout defender (Avery Bradley) and a player with a questionable past (Dwight Howard). Since then, the Lakers’ reserves have mostly become the best version of themselves.
Keep in mind, they minimized those speed bumps with an erratic training camp in China while the country took offense to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeting out his support for the Hong Kong protesters. The Lakers also navigated through the unexpected death of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, whom were among nine people that died in a helicopter crash just over two months ago.
“I thought it would take us a lot longer than it did. But I was wrong,” James said. “I was very wrong about that. We were able to click. We were able to figure out who would our team be – and it started with Coach Vogel. We were going to be a defensive-minded team. We’re going to hit guys. We’re going to be very physical. And then on the offensive end, we’re going to play fast, but we’re going to play smart and we’re going to play together. And everything started with myself and AD, and it trickled down to everyone else.”
This isn’t the time to write the Lakers’ season in review just yet. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on Monday that the league will not make any decisions this month, and it remains unclear if next month will bring any clarity.
“I’m always pretty optimistic about everything,” James said. “I feel like it’s always greener on the other side of the fence. I believe that this is a roadblock for all of us, not only as Americans, but for the world … It’s a test of our mental side, our spiritual side, it’s a test for everything. We had grown so comfortable with how we live our life and everyday life that it’s now time to take a pause. I’m very optimistic about not only just basketball, but sport. It’s not just about the Lakers. It’s not just about the NBA, but it’s everything.”
But it is also about LeBron James and his attitude.
Yes, James has chafed at the possibility that the NBA could host games without fans, either at every team’s venue or at a neutral sight, such as Las Vegas. He shared child-hood memories of seeing rowdy fans at his high school. James credited the Miami Heat’s fans for the comeback wins over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 and 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Yet, James sounded aware that playing in any game under any circumstance is better than nothing at all.
“If it comes to a point if we’re playing without our fans, we still know that we have Laker faithful with us in spirit,” James said. “We know they’ll be home cheering us on, online, on their phones, on their tablets watching us playing so hopefully we can bottle that energy that we know we’re getting from them.”
James admitted there will be some difficulty in returning to play after sitting out for an extended period of time. Even at 35-years-old, he has argued he needs to maintain his rhythm.
He has trained four or five times a week at his home gym. Unnamed friends have given him access to their own private basketball court. James has also shot on his own court with his son, Bronny. He’s also had frequent conversations with the Lakers’ front office, coaching staff and teammates, either through Zoom or text messages, in hopes that conversations could at least foster some team unity.
“LeBron is a pro’s pro and I know that the way he dedicates himself to his profession is unparalleled and has been in this time,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said Wednesday on a Zoom call. “I know he’s been committed to leadership, and he’s been committed to continuing to inspire his teammates.”
To keep himself inspired, James has adhered to a strict routine. He goes to sleep using the Calm App, which plays uplifting stories and inspiring music. He wakes up feeling invigorated because he sees his sons (Bronny, Bryce) and daughter (Zhuri) have what he calls “a positive mindframe.” After eating, practice and training, James has kept himself engaged in other ways. He will meditate for 10-minute intervals. He will complete breathing exercises. He will express gratitude for his various accomplishments and fortunes. He then enjoys free time with his loved ones.
“It’s definitely been a bit of a blessing to be able to be here 24/7 and be here with your family,” James said. “And being able to – I don’t want to say ‘recoup’ the time, because that’s one thing you cannot do. Time waits for no man and you can’t do that. But to be able to appreciate it and be in this moment, it’s been pretty cool. Even though I’ve missed the game of basketball like none other.”
And sure, it has helped that James has spent part of his quarantine life the same way most of us have.
“I did watch ‘Tiger King,’ ” James said. “Pretty much anything that has the word “king” in it, I pretty much watch. ‘Tiger King,’ ‘Lion King…’ ”
It would also be captivating to watch the King himself. That show is usually more entertaining when LeBron James plays basketball. Yet, it is still inspiring to see how James has stomached the reality he might not play basketball anytime soon.