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Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6)

Elise Amendola, Associated Press

James made 2012 the year of LeBron

  • Article by: TIM REYNOLDS
  • Associated Press
  • December 25, 2012 - 2:42 AM

MIAMI - Pat Riley has a theory about why LeBron James' journey to basketball's mountaintop took so long.

Growth, he said, takes time.

"I always use the analogy of the Chinese bamboo tree," said Riley, the Miami Heat's president. "You plant the seed in the ground and it just sits there and 10 years later it grows 100 feet in one year. Over the 10 years, there's a root structure and a taproot that is growing deeper and deeper and deeper and is embedded in the ground. And when that thing starts growing, it ain't going anywhere but up."

That is, much like James did in 2012.

James got his first NBA championship, was the league's MVP for the third time, was a unanimous choice as MVP of the NBA Finals and collected a second Olympic gold medal. And in perhaps the last marquee moment of his year, James and the Heat play host to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, an NBA Finals rematch on Christmas.

No longer uncomfortable with the fallout for the way he exercised his right in 2010 to choose his own future, James enjoyed a year loaded with triumphs. James allowed himself to be in the public eye more, heard booing in most road arenas return to normal levels and insists he's as content as ever.

"I'm driven by something greater," James said.

At 27, he is averaging 25.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists, and the Heat is leading the Eastern Conference with an 18-6 record.

What's left is legacy, him attempting to ensure he truly becomes one of the greatest.

"You look at some of the greatest companies," James said. "As great as McDonald's is, they don't stop. As great as Nike is, they don't stop. They could. They've got enough.

"I want to keep getting better. I want to put myself in position to maximize every little thing that I have."

That starts with putting himself out there more.

A few weeks ago, James decided to join some friends for an evening bike ride. He was part of a group of 3,000 people who strapped on helmets and rode through Miami in an effort to promote safety and awareness for bicyclists.

"Two years ago," James said, "I don't know if I would have been ready for that."

Not after The Decision and the criticism and all that came with it, part of what he now calls his transformation from the person he was to the person he is.

Turns out, they're nearly the same, although today's version may have just wrapped up one of the best years by any athlete.

"He's still hungry and thirsty for more," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And I think that's what separates the great ones and the ultimate competitors. ... He wants to continue to reinvent himself, get better and drive this team, push this team for a bigger legacy than just a one-title team."

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