ORLANDO, Fla. - With his vast experience competing in The Finals, LeBron James knows how to navigate the highs and lows when the lights are the brightest. And he understands how to fight from both sides, both as the favorite or team up in the series and from the opposite end of the series ledger.
In this, his 10th appearance in The Finals, he's comfortable looking back on the lessons learned in each and every trip, especially his first one, when his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.
It provided a blueprint for how it should be done.
Seeing Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and his future Hall of Fame trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker work like that was a revelation to 22-year-old LeBron James.
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"Well, I mean, obviously they were the better team," LeBron said before the Lakers' Thursday practice. "Dealing with Timmy and Manu and Tony and Pop, four Hall of Famers, I knew it would be challenging, not only for myself but for our franchise and for our ball club. I saw the way they approached every game, how they approached every possession. They didn't make mistakes. They weren't just happy with being there; they wanted to be great, as a unit and as individuals as well.
"I sensed that as a 22-year-old, and I saw that as a 22-year-old. That helped shape me year after year after year after year, just holding on to that feeling of not being able to reach the ultimate goal. But at the same time, like I said, just having that adversity and having those moments has put me in a position where I've been throughout my career."
LeBron James discusses how playing against great coaches and players in the postseason has helped his game develop. #NBAFinals presented by @YouTubeTV Media Availability- NBA (@NBA) October 1, 2020
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LeBron has always relished the ability to be a student of the game and he has an affinity for the honing of the craft, the obsessing over the minutiae that tends to be a trait of champions and the game's all-time greats.
Each one of his past playoff runs provided the basis of knowledge he's using to work his way through the most unique run of his career.
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"Like I mentioned last night, the best teacher is life experience," he said. "I've played against great coaches throughout my whole career, not only in the regular season but in the postseason, throughout first, second, third, Finals runs. I've played against some exceptional coaches, great coaches, Hall of Fame coaches, Hall of Fame players. They've all, opponents and coaches, helped me get to this point where I am today, to a point where I have no weakness, offensively or defensively, to where if I can read a defense, I can exploit it. I can put myself in a position to be successful. It doesn't mean that the ball goes in all the time, but there's nothing out on the floor that I cannot do at this point in my career.
"That's all because of the competition, the adversity, the losses and everything I've been through throughout the course of my career. At that point in time I say I've got to work on this because that's what they're allowing me to have; now I've got to work on this because they're shutting this down in my game. It's just, like I said, the best teacher in life is life experience, and I've experienced it all."
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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