x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

LeBron James aims to be best of all time

Miami Heat star not shy about his ambitions

LeBron James has not been shy about announcing his ambition to one day be considered the best basketball player ever. Brian Snyder / Reuters
LeBron James has not been shy about announcing his ambition to one day be considered the best basketball player ever. Brian Snyder / Reuters

LeBron James was the young star playing for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. It seemed an ideal situation.

But after seven seasons of trying to bring a first championship to a benighted city, he bolted. He took what seemed the easy way out, joining two other elite players in Miami, and he announced it in the worst way possible – at the end of a ghastly and ill-considered half-hour television special named: The Decision.

NBA supporters turned on him overnight.

The day before The Decision, he was seen as a local kid willing to spend a career trying to win for Cleveland fans. The day after, he became just another pampered, ungrateful and out-of-touch superstar. He was a traitor and, too, his jump shot was weak, his sportsmanship shaky and his shying away from the final shot a given.

That was three and a half years ago. Only a trace of that animosity remains. Derision has been replaced by admiration for a player clearly at the pinnacle of the NBA.

He is the best player in the game, and maybe of a generation. But his ambition is to do more. “I want to be the greatest of all time,” he said in September. “It’s that simple. I’m far away from it, but I see the light.”

He has already been the league’s MVP four times. He has won two NBA championships, twice been the Finals MVP and has two Olympic gold medals. If he wins one more regular-season MVP he will join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Bill Russell (five) and Michael Jordan (five) as the only players in NBA history with five.

He turned 29 on Monday. James is a unique physical package, a freakish combination of size, strength and athleticism. Add that to his desire to be the best and you have a very special athlete.

Mike D’Antoni, the Los Angeles Lakers coach, was an assistant coach on the 2008 and 2012 US Olympic teams, and he has become a big fan.

“When your hardest worker is your best player, then your team is going to be really good,” D’Antoni said.

“And then the other thing is that he’s working on his game. He’s working on the low post. He’s working on his jump shot. He’s working every day as hard as he can.”

In James’s rookie season, he shot 41.7 per cent from the field. His shooting percentage has gone up eight consecutive seasons, though. He is making 59.2 per cent of his shots this season, fourth best in the league.

James said: “I have a drive that’s burning inside of me.”

He can become a free agent again at the end of the season, if he elects to pick up his early termination option. Unlike four years ago, however, James is not discussing his personal future.

“I never saw him leaving Cleveland, so I would never try to predict what he wants to do,” the NBA TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy told the Los Angeles Times. “But wherever he plays, they’re going to have the best player in the game.”