Friday, June 22, 2012

A Closer Look Needed to Find Champion Character

It's something we do every day.  We all look in the mirror.  Maybe it's just a glance or maybe we give ourselves a full "Mirror, Mirror on the wall...Jean Claude Van Damme I'm Fine" look.  Whichever it is, it's routine and usually done just to make sure everything is in order.

But, there are times when the full length door mirror simply won't do.  There are moments when we must break out the magnifying mirror.  Sometimes a quick gander is all we can stomach because what we see is humbling.  Zits, wrinkles, gray hairs, baggy eyes, and receding hairlines (ahem) that are often hard to detect with the normal mirror are not only exposed, but unavoidable.   The magnifying mirror gives us an honest look at who we really are.

Twelve months ago, the Dallas Mavericks forced LeBron James to step away from the bathroom mirror and take a long, hard look into the 10x one.  Today, he is better for it.

James' poor performance against the Mavs in last year's NBA Finals and the circus he created leading up to that series was representative of an immature, arrogant, pompous young man who had never been forced to face failure in the eye.

When he was 16, Sports Illustrated anointed him "The Chosen One."  He was heralded as a franchise savior when drafted first overall by his hometown Clevaland Cavaliers.  Even when he struggled in his last series as a Cav, he received the red carpet treatment from every other team and fan base in the world the following summer as probably the most coveted free agent in NBA history.  He selfishly announced he would "take (his) talents to South Beach" during a nationally televised, hour-long special on ESPN.

LeBron had become the King of basketball, if not only by talent, but by popularity. The sports world watched his every move closer than teenage boys in the 80s watched Phoebe Cates get out of a pool.

And he bought into it.  To be fair, it's hard to receive that kind of attention and not lose yourself a bit, especially in your mid-20s, but LeBron, who is an intelligent person, handled his popularity without class or poise.

What LeBron bought into was different from reality.

At the time, LeBron acted as though champions were crowned by expectations, not performance.  The loss to the Mavericks was a vivid realization that he wasn't invincible. He is just like the rest of us, flawed, not loved by all, and capable of being humbled.

This season, LeBron changed.  He came out hungry and with a title or bust mentality, different from his first season in Miami when he was concerned more with the bright lights of fame than the shine of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

LeBron's talent was never really the problem, but he became a stronger, more well-rounded player.  But what changed the most was the muscle between his ears.  LeBron thought before he spoke or acted.  He acted like a professional.  He was a leader in the huddle, a voice of reason in press conferences, and conducted himself as the face of the league's most popular franchise.

That demeanor carried over to a more poised, mature player on the floor.  While he wasn't perfect, he was pretty close.  LeBron put together a playoff run that statistically is one of the best ever.  He almost averaged a triple-double in the Finals and made key plays at key moments, which was an aspect of his game that was greatly lacking just a year prior.

The saying goes, "you can't truly succeed, until you experience failure."  LeBron James failed early in his career.  He failed as a player, especially in the clutch.  He failed as a leader and he failed as a professional.

Over the past year, LeBron stripped himself down, stood in front of  life's mirror and decided to correct the flaws that were keeping him from true greatness.   He embraced where he fell short previously and took the necessary steps to make himself better, both in talent and character.

Now when LeBron James looks into that mirror, he will see a man who turned arrogance and failure into humility and success.  In other words, he will be looking back at a true champion.

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