By Keith Firmin | @keithfirmin
When the final buzzer sounded in the American Airlines Arena on 21st June, Lebron James was finally able to shrug off the crushing weight of expectation and the public’s eagerness to see him fail, after his announcement that he was leaving his home town Cleveland Cavaliers in July 2010.
Following his team’s series clinching Game five 121-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the regular season and Finals MVP spoke with candidness about his mindset during his first year in Miami: “I let it affect me. I told you guys over and over and over that I was playing to prove people wrong last year. People would say I was selfish and that got to me. It got to me a lot…..all last year I tried to prove people wrong, prove you guys (points at media) wrong.”
But former Chicago Bulls legend and fellow card carrying member of the ‘Small Forwards Association’, Scottie Pippen, said that he wasn’t so sure that the media would have gotten inside the mind of King James:
“I don’t think it affected him at all,” said the two-time Olympic Gold medallist and Hall of Famer in an exclusive interview with Hoopsfix.com at the Nike World Basketball Festival in London. “I don’t think the media does anything that tries to degrade you. But it brings out the best in you as a player. You’re the guy who can go out the next night, next game and really focus on what you need to do and what you have to do to win.”
Pippen, who played in 1178 regular season games and 208 play-off games over an incredible 17 year career, pointed to James’ 28.6ppg, 10.2rpg and 7.4apg in the Finals as proof of Lebron’s overall dominance. The Chicago Bulls Team Ambassador also praised James’ on-court awareness and advised that a continued commitment to his conditioning was important going forward:
“He’s going into his ninth season in the league – it’s really about staying healthy and physically fit,” Pippen said when talking about James’ body which has so far registered 804 NBA games. “Basketball skill-wise, he’s as good as it gets. His skills are polished,
“It’s more of a mental game now; How he’s getting to pick his scores and where he’s going to position himself out on the basketball court. That’s where I think he grew from last year to this season – he took shots that he wanted to take instead of taking shots that he was forced to take.”
If advice is to be heeded, who better to listen to than a six-time NBA champion. Pippen won his first ring in 1991, his fifth year in the league, as the Bulls beat the Portland Trailblazers 4 -1 in the Finals.
Pippen’s first championship was also the franchise’s opening glory and while it took the team 25 years to raise a banner to the rafters, they only had to wait until the following season to claim title two and 12 months later, title three. The Bulls went on to complete their second three peat of titles in 1996/97/98.
Those kind of credentials are not to be ignored, so when Scottie Pippen talks, it’s best people listen:
“I think in the end, it gets a little bit easier for you,” Pippen said when talking about the changes Lebron will experience having won his first ring. “You sort of passed through that way before. Lebron is a guy who went to the final three times. He was very comfortable, it seemed to me, this time going into the final.”
It wasn’t intended to be, but those words by Pippen serve less as an observation and more as a warning: You thought Lebron was hard to guard before? Wait until you see him now that he’s a free man.
Keith Firmin is a freelance journalist and can be reached at email@example.com
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