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The Mental Game of LeBron James

In Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins' 2012 Sportsman of the Year article on LeBron James, he covers quite a bit about LeBron's mental game. It's fascinating reading and I thought I would pull out some of the sections and quotes that jumped out at me.

  • "The game is a house, and some players only have one or two windows in their house because they can't absorb any more light," says Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of Team USA. "When I met LeBron, he only had a few windows, but then he learned how beautiful the game can be, so he put more windows in. Now he sees the damn game so well, it's like he lives in a glass building. He has entered a state of mastery. There's nothing he can't do. God gave him a lot but he is using everything. He's one of the unique sports figures of all time, really, and he's right in that area where it's all come together." A voracious mind has caught up with a supreme body. The marriage is a marvel.
  • [Game 4, 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Heat-Pacers] Chris Jent, Ohio State assistant coach and former Cavaliers assistant: I sent him a long e-mail before that game, and I talked a lot about my brother, who is a retired Marine. He tells his guys that the mental side is 1,000-to-1 more important than the physical. Your mind will allow your body to get where it needs to go.
  • [Game 4, 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Heat-Pacers] Dwyane Wade: LeBron and I have this thing where we kind of look at each other when it's time to step up. Even before we played together, we did it in All-Star Games and at the Olympics. It means he wants more from me, or vice versa.
  • Peers often describe James as "a beast," and even though they mean to flatter him, the label dismisses the depths to which he comprehends the game. He can deconstruct the top eight players on every NBA team and many college teams. He can run every set in the Heat playbook from all five positions. In film sessions he sometimes completes Spoelstra's sentences, and at the Olympics, many of Team USA's defensive strategies were suggestions from James in practice. "He's not smart," says Krzyzewski. "He's brilliant. And I don't like to use that word."
  • "Everybody sees the dunks and the 35 points, but it's no accident. Carmelo Anthony is the same size. J.R. Smith can jump just as high. Dwight Howard is as good an athlete. It's his thought process that separates him."
  • "It's a little like A Beautiful Mind," says Battier, a Miami forward. "He has a quasiphotographic memory that allows him to process data very quickly. Usually, the überathletic guys who are so much more physically gifted than everybody else don't give much credence to the mental side of the game. Dwyane, for instance, has no time for this. He couldn't care less about numbers. He goes out, imposes his will, and that's great. It's made him a Hall of Famer. But LeBron is looking for every edge."
  • Only then does he retreat to his meticulously organized locker and clear his mind of the details running through it. Many players function at the same speed all the time. James, constantly searching for mismatches, shifts back and forth from reading to reacting. His brain can bog him down. "Sometimes I overanalyze things, overthink things," he says. "It can get in my way." He slips on his headphones, turns up the hip-hop and finds his attack mode.
  • [Game 6, 2012 Eastern Conference Finals: Heat-Celtics] Udonis Haslem, Heat forward: You could tell on the bus. He wasn't going to let us lose.
  • [Game 6, 2012 Eastern Conference Finals: Heat-Celtics] Erik Spoelstra: Once the game started, we saw that look. We just call it the look. We have a picture of it now, bigger than life, outside our locker room. It's the look of the ultimate competitor.
  • [2012 Olympics: United States - Lithuania] Mike Krzyzewski: Over the years LeBron has learned that it's not just what a leader says but how a leader looks that counts. It's the nonverbal communication that can sometimes carry the day. His body language and facial expressions were so strong that day. He put us on his back.