Indisputably wise beyond his years, more confident than his peers, LeBron James lounged comfortably in front of cameras and microphones at a Tokyo hotel on Monday afternoon, gazed at the assembled crowd and uttered one short sentence that reveals the true essence behind his success.
“I don’t believe in pressure,” he said.
When he made the quantum leap from an Ohio high school to the NBA, LeBron James believed his talent would carry him to great heights.
James, 21, is the brightest young star in the NBA. His squad, the Cleveland Cavaliers, is now a threat to be a perennial title contender, as evidenced by its breakout performance in the playoffs this past season. And James, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft out of an Akron, Ohio high school, is leading the future wave of Team USA basketball.
In Japan, James and Co. are 6-0 heading into Tuesday’s quarterfinal against Germany at the FIBA World Championship at Saitama Super Arena.
The Americans are coming off a 40-point win against Australia.
Team USA has shown that it is capable of shredding the old label of me-first players, the one that caused many to dislike recent U.S. squads.
This squad is different. This squad is likable.
Along with James, shooting guard Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat and forward Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets are the team’s co-captains. All are in their early 20s.
“I think me, Dwyane and ‘Melo have done a good job of leading our team,” James said.
In short, this is James’ team to lead, a far cry from his backup role on the 2004 U.S. squad in Athens.
“In two years, I’ve grown as a man, of course,” he said. “I’ve matured. I’m getting to really showcase that talent.
“This was big for me because I’m a leader, just two years removed from being a cheerleader.”
Asked if he can envision the three of them playing on the same NBA team one day, James said he can’t predict the future. But he said the three of them have been strong leaders for their respective squads.
Fans, many of which booed Team USA two years ago at the Athens Olympics, now cheer for James as he dunks or dishes the ball to a teammate.
The fans have been great, James said, admitting the crowd support is something special.
“You live in the moment,” he added.
In a wide-ranging interview Monday afternoon organized by Nike, James spoke proudly about the music he jams to before games (rapper Jay-Z), his mother’s unwavering love for him when he was a child, and his new signature sneaker (Nike LeBron Zoom 2055, a reference to his averages of 20-plus points, 5-plus rebounds and 5-plus assists per game as a rookie).
Someone suggested that perhaps James’ fame and fortune have come too quickly. But he politely disagreed.
“Me being an only child, I’m greedy. I want everything fast,” he said with an infectious smile.
James’ popularity is widespread. During stops in China and Japan, adoring fans made him feel welcome.
“They love the game of basketball,” he said. “They love LeBron James. . . . It’s great.”
He said playing in the FIBA World Championship is a wonderful experience, one that helps him and his teammates become more cognizant of team-first basketball.
Of course, it never hurts spending time in the gym with Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has led the Duke Blue Devils to college basketball greatness for two-plus decades.
He’s a “living legend,” James said.
For James, playing for Coach K has given some exposure to the college game, something he didn’t experience firsthand after his high-school days.
In the summer of 1992, little LeBron James was mesmerized by what he saw on TV. The Dream Team thrilled him with its exciting brand of team ball.
The 8-year-old dreamed of doing these same things when he was older: Magic Johnson’s no-look passes, Michael Jordan’s electrifying slam dunks and Larry Bird’s 3-point shots.
One word, he said, came to mind when he remembers impressions of that team: “wow.”
At the time, James said he was too young to grasp the greatness of Team USA’s gold-medal winning performance at the Barcelona Olympics.
But he now looks back on that time with fondness, and is grateful to have the opportunity to play for the United States in international competition.
“It was great. You dream about being a part of this. I’m happy I’m here,” he said.
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