It's deja vu all over again for LeBron James, who some 500 days, countless hours and more soul-searching moments than any one human could ever portend to having found closure from later again finds himself standing center court at American Airlines Arena, anxiously seeking to justify to all the world just how he came to arrive at his latest decision.
"I play the game fun, joyful, and I let my game do all of the talking and I got away from that last season,” reflected James, incessantly booed on the road for the first time in his NBA career last season after fleeing his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and joining forces with the evil empire then perceived by many to be Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Co.
“That's what I lost last year," added James, the early-season front runner for the 2012 MVP award. "Going through my first seven years in the league I was always the "liked one" and to be on the other side — they call it the dark side or the villain or whatever they call it — it was definitely challenging. It was a situation I had never been in before, and it took awhile … it took a long time to adjust to it."
Question is, how does one ever truly come to grips with being someone they've never really envisioned themselves as being? As much as any pressure defense, any tricked out man-to-man zone matchup, that's the one trap LeBron James recklessly allowed himself to fall pray to during his first year in South Beach.
But that was then and this is now, and the man yet revered by diehards as The Chosen One insists he's done with more or less beating himself, done with debauchery of being his own worse enemy. For King James, it's back to the days and ways of relating as simply a common man.
"I have to get back to loving the game like I have since my days as a child," added James. "Having fun with it, that's critical for me. Trying to play the role of villain basically turned me into somebody I wasn't .You start to hear the villain stuff and now you have to be the villain. I started to buy into it. I started to play at a mind set I've never played at before."
And it showed. Not since the days when Hulk Hogan ceased imploring kids all over the globe to take say their prayers and take their vitamins and instead took to regularly donning the NWO's black on black colors has an entertainer ever seemed more miscast that James appeared last season.
"It wasn't me, but I learned a lot from it," James stresses. "They weren't all good lessons… but I learned them." And clearly he's wiser and his Heat team is better for having endured the experiences. At the All-Star break, Miami (27-7) ranked neck-and-neck with Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City with the league's best record. Reigning MVP Derek Rose and Chicago stood not far away at 28-7 and San Antonio (24-10), fresh off an 8-1-road trip without injured star swing-man Manu Ginobili, is beginning to conjure added attention.
Now ask yourself: do any of those teams or any other one truly seem on the level of the Heat? So dominant has Miami become, the days of the likes of Joakim Noah being able to rather easily dismiss them as simply "Hollywood as hell" seems a criticism that far outlasted its relevancy.
Consider that during the month of February alone, a juncture when Miami finished a sparkling 11-2, with their average margin of victory topped 16 points. It's been enough to convince fans and pundits alike.
"There are about six teams in the league that are good enough, capable enough of winning the title," said NBA Hall of Famer and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley. "Now, that being said, at their best, LeBron and Miami have more than enough to beat any other team's best."
And it all could hinge on an act as simple as a smile. LeBron James was boldly wearing his at center court that day. I'm at peace right now," he pensively reflected." And with that, the good times may be only beginning down in South Beach.
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