LeBron's torment: Win title or 'no happiness' - NBC Sports

LeBron's torment: Win title or 'no happiness'
Life in a 'fishbowl' brings high expectations, but James says none are higher than his own
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LeBron James has been in two NBA Finals and come home empty. He says a championship is "the only thing that I'm missing, to make the ultimate of happiness for me."
April 26, 2012, 6:04 pm

"Last year," he says, "I didn't win, and I had no happiness."

There are many moments to savor over the course of an NBA season - comeback victories, staggering scoring totals, box scores with big numbers neatly aligned.

LeBron James has had them all. And, yet, it is as if he has nothing. It is a reality not even an anticipated third NBA Most Valuable Player award will change.

He is, to a degree, living out Eminem's "Lose Yourself":

"If you had one shot, or one opportunity,
"To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
"Would you capture it or just let it slip?"

Just as it did against the San Antonio Spurs while with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now there is only one correct answer, one that has to come in the final game of the Finals. Amid rapture.

Or else there again only will be despair.

No other player in the league plays to these stakes, not champions such as Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, who already have carved championship legacies. Not MVP rivals such as Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, who still have the grace period of maturing into their moment.

Even in this Heat locker room, the heaviness sits only at one locker. Dwyane Wade already has his championship. Chris Bosh never entered the NBA with a championship mandate.

It is a solitary existence.

And yet, embraced.

"That's what I prepare for," LeBron says quietly, surprisingly accepting of the line of questioning, rather than annoyed with the redundancy.

"I prepare every day to hoist that trophy up for me and my teammates," he says. "I mean, I've faced a lot of pressure my whole life. Even where I come from, I was always a statistic of maybe not making it out, things like that.

"So I understand the fishbowl that I'm in. But I can only satisfy myself and my teammates. I can't worry about what everyone else says."

And that's what all too often is lost. This is not an external pressure, but one from within. Arguably the greatest player in the game today to a degree views himself as a failure.

"For me, that's my goal, that's my ultimate goal, is to win a championship," he says. "And it isn't because of what everybody else says or what everybody else thinks of my career or anything like that."

It is because of the weight he has carried since last June.

"It's because," he says, "I felt like I let my teammates down and let myself down."

Wade says he sees it almost every day.

"He wants to win more than anybody," Wade says.

The heaviness is ever-present.

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"No one," teammate Mike Miller says, "understands what he has to go through. And the people that judge him have never been in those situations. It's tough. It's tough for him, especially for as talented as he is.

"It would be great for him just to get that chip off his shoulder and make it a little easier for him to play."

Last season, the rallying cry in the Heat locker room was to win it for "17," the nickname the team gave then-17-year-veteran Juwan Howard.

But with Howard now in his 18th season and with James having gone from up 2-1 to a 4-2 2011 Finals demise, this is all about No. 6, an undeniable reality in the locker room.

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"He's been to the Finals twice. Trust me, he wants to win it more than anyone wants to win it. He wants to win it more than the pressure people put on him. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet. But it will."

That's why "18" wants it for the player who dresses to his left an AmericanAirlines Arena.

"When he wins it," Howard says, "it's going to be a sigh of relief. But it's going to happen. Hopefully it happens this year."

That is the universal goal in this locker room.

"For him, and it's been like that for other great players," Wade says, "they're going to have that pressure until they win it first. And once they win the first, it's going to be like, 'Well, you got to win three; you've got to win another one.' I think, for him, we just want to get that first one out of the way and worry about the rest. I don't think he would probably really want it any other way.

"The high expectations have made him the player he's been his whole life. But I told him once he gets it, once he's able to win that championship, for that moment he's going feel great."

Thing is, he already knows it. June can't get here soon enough.

He must capture it.

Not, again, just let it slip.

It is LeBron James' mandate.

"For me," he says, "that's the only thing that I'm missing, to make the ultimate of happiness for me."

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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