Championship hasn't diminished LeBron's fire - NBC Sports

Championship hasn't diminished LeBron's fire
One title not enough for James, who strives to be like Mike
Reuters
A year ago, LeBron James spent the first two weeks of his offseason in a dark place, shutting out the world. This offseason, there was no equal period of celebration. There couldn't be, not with the Olympics and an early start to camp because of the Heat's preseason China trip.
October 30, 2012, 10:10 am

LeBron James is finished with the preseason.

But he's not finished with the question, the one he has been asked over the past month in Atlanta, Beijing, Shanghai, Raleigh, Kansas City and continually in Miami.

To a degree, the mere suggestion is insulting, at least in the context that the three-time and reigning Most Valuable Player considers himself:

Does he enter the season content, satisfied, sated, having finally won his elusive NBA championship?

The LeBron of two years ago, the one who convinced himself that playing the villain was the way to go after leaving the Cavaliers for the Heat amid "The Decision," might have snapped.

But that anger abated well before he hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy in June.

"Nah, it doesn't bother me at all," he said of those who could even entertain the possibility that this season's LeBron could or would be any less motivated. "I know what my passion is for the game."

He pauses, then enters into an area where ego can come off as arrogance. But he is beyond such concerns, as well.

"I want to be, like I said, if not the greatest, I want to be one of the greats," he said. "So I'm not satisfied at all with just winning one. I want to continue to improve and continue to put myself in position to win championships."

While entry into the circle of champions meant making the breakthrough that Ewing, Malone, Stockton, Barkley were unable to achieve, it also means currently having as many championship rings, Heat championship rings, in fact, as Earl Barron, one fewer, still, than teammate Udonis Haslem.

There is so much more to accomplish. There are Bird and Magic, Hakeem and, of course, Michael to chase.

"I'm playing for a lot in my career," James said, "so I don't need any more motivation to want to win again."

And yet he has handled himself during camp, and even the offseason, as someone with added incentive, a fire stoked, not dampened.

"Because that feeling that I received after winning it wasn't enough," he said. "I mean, it was great. It was an amazing feat, and it was a goal of mine that I wanted to accomplish, but I want that feeling back."

For a month now, Bosh has listened to the questions of hunger being asked of James. Like James, he said it's something outsiders don't get, that a first championship is not a destination for an athlete, but instead a takeoff point.

"Honestly," Bosh said, "you can't have the same hunger. The hunger changes. It's a difference between starving and being greedy. Starving is a different desperation, but being greedy is more resiliency."

He is talking in generalities, but he also is talking about LeBron in particular.

"And I think we're going to see that not only with him, but for the rest of the team," Bosh said. "I know a lot of people are going to be expecting for him to have that same, I guess, feeling, but it's just impossible. You have to change it, because everything has changed. He's going to have to change his mentality as a player, as he stands on top. It's a different hunger, more so like, 'This is my plate,' and you guard it."

A year ago, James spent the first two weeks of his offseason in a dark place, shutting out the world. Yet this offseason, he said there was no equal period of celebration or at least championship reflection. There couldn't be, not with the Olympics and an early start to camp because of the Heat's preseason China trip.

"I didn't have that two weeks," he said. "It was back to work."

And, so, he got back to work, adding to his game, because that's what he had done for years. Adding to his game, because his role evolved last season as coach Erik Spoelstra removed anyone resembling a true center from his rotation and instead began to feature James in the post.

"He always adds something every year, and I think that's what all the great ones do," Spoelstra said. "They don't feel comfortable, even after a championship. He understands legacy. He understands the Miami Heat legacy, what we have an opportunity to do here, while nothing is guaranteed."

He has grown. He has won. He has evolved.

And yet, the swirl remains, because of who he is. On the eve of camp, there was the shift to long-time friend Rich Paul as agent, fueling talk of an eventual return to Cleveland, where Paul is setting up shop. Then, midway through camp, came word of the Lakers putting aside a nest egg for when James can become a free agent in the 2014 offseason.

The clock not only is ticking on another championship, but on, yes, another decision.

As a champion, he might find himself in a different place, but as LeBron James, he still finds himself caught amid conjecture, speculation, the swirl.

"He has as much experience in that world as anybody, way more than any of us," Spoelstra said, brushing aside the notion of external influences taking James back to that dark, pre-championship place. "He's lived in that fishbowl world since he was in junior high school, middle school. He's adapted to it well. He handles it well, compartmentalizes it as well as anybody I've seen.

"But he's proven himself as the ultimate winner, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA championship."

Spoelstra pauses. Then goes back to the question of the moment, LeBron's ever-present question over the past month.

"And yet," Spoelstra said, "I haven't seen a change in his drive."

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

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