LeBron James emerged from the Miami Heat’s stunning defeat in the 2011 NBA Finals to an underdog Dallas Mavericks squad a hardened, embittered man.
Having failed so spectacularly on the grandest stage—he averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 turnovers per game in the series—James says he lost his “love for the game.”
For years you’ve worked on your body. But were there any times in your life, or your career, where you started to put more emphasis on the mental fitness side of things?
LeBron: “I would say probably the last eight years. The one instance that I can think about right off the top is after the loss to Dallas in the 2011 Finals. I knew that the physical side wasn’t gonna be enough. And also the level of scrutiny that I was dealing with, and how I got out of my comfort zone, I lost my love for the game. I knew that was the mental side.”
LBJ began focusing on his mental health, and resolved to never again lose his trademark joie de vivre on the court.
Per USA Today:
“During my first seven years in the NBA I was always the liked one. To be on the other side, they call it the dark side, or the villain, whatever they call it . . . It was definitely challenging for myself. It was a situation I had never been in before. I took a long time to adjust to it. It didn’t feel good. I was still living in Ohio and you could feel it. You don’t even have to hear it. You can feel it.”
How the hatred from fans affected him:
“It basically turned me into somebody I wasn’t. When you start to hear ‘the villain,’ now you have to be the villain. And I started to buy into it. I started to play the game of basketball at a level or in a mind state that I had never played at before. I mean angry. That’s mentally, and that’s not the way I play the game of basketball.”
On his disappointing play in the NBA Finals:
“I just know I could have played better. I didn’t have enough game-changing plays where I just shifted the game.”