It's easy to be impressed with LeBron James' physical gifts and basketball IQ. But watch the four-time MVP run through a workout — even for just a few minutes — and you gain a whole new understanding.
In late September, a day after LeBron debuted his new Nike LeBron 12 basketball shoes, I got a glimpse of his 90-minute training session at Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. He had the place to himself — or as much to himself as possible with a disc jockey pumping out tunes and a handful of coaches watching over every move. In the final minutes, LeBron sprinted the 94-foot length of the court for a layup, back the other way for a dunk, his long strides carrying him to the other end again and back to finish with a two-hand dunk.
He dropped to the floor under the rim and lay there. Exhausted.
He didn't move for almost a minute. Former Cavs teammate Damon Jones walked over and extended his hand. Still on his back, LeBron gave him a high-five. His trainer leaned in, said something, and LeBron sat up and grinned. Maybe he knew we were watching.
If the visual of the greatest basketball player on the planet reduced to a bucket of sweat can't convince you how hard LeBron works on his game, try taking the same court immediately afterward to run through a fraction of his training regimen.
Even while testing LeBron's shoes, the most advanced basketball kicks Nike's ever designed, I was still me — a terribly average, out-of-shape, former high school point guard.
"I try to challenge myself on [how] I can improve," LeBron said the day before when asked about his offseason diet. "It was a mental challenge to see if I can do it."
For some media types, however, even the warm-ups posed a hurdle. We'd hardly gotten underway before a coach began correcting my form on the heel-toe-knee-lift exercise. I felt slightly more comfortable once we split up for shooting drills. I could always shoot — and did it often. But this was no stand-and-chuck-it drill. We cut up the lane, flared to the wing, caught a pass, pivoted and ... clank, miss, brick. On the fourth try, I got my feet squared and released, knowing, This is in. I made another and was feeling pretty good.
LeBron had finished stretching and was sitting on a bench behind our basket. He'd either not seen my display or was trying not to give away his obvious interest.
"LeBron," I said, "welcome home."
He looked up with a big smile. "Thank you," he replied.
It was genuine and fresh, even after his workout, even after he'd probably heard it a thousand times since August.
It's what I'll keep with me throughout this season. Yet with all the excitement and expectations that comes with LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, we as fans have a new challenge: remembering LeBron's words, that nothing is given here, everything is earned.