LeBron James is bigger than most of his opponents.
He’s faster than most of those opponents.
He’s stronger than most of his opponents.
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That’s enough to make LeBron a successful player, but it doesn’t fully explain his standing as an all-time great.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN details another reason: LeBron’s exceptional memory. As LeBron explains:
“It’s allowed me to see things before they happen, put guys in position, kind of read my teammates, knowing who is out of rhythm, who is in rhythm, knowing the score, the time, who has it going on the other end, knowing their likes and dislikes and being able to calibrate all that into a game situation,” James says. “That’s very challenging, but it comes natural. It can help your team out.”
Sometimes, these traits get overblown. I’m sure LeBron sees the floor very well, but many NBA players see the floor very well. Can we, as non-elite basketball players, really distinguish between what LeBron does and what others do?
Chris Bosh, via Windhorst, provides perspective:
“Look, we’re all professional basketball players, so when LeBron remembers something from a basketball game, even if it’s from a few years ago, it doesn’t exactly blow me away,” Bosh says. “But it’s when he remembers other stuff, like stuff he shouldn’t even know, where you’re like, ‘What?!’ We’ll be watching a football game and he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, that cornerback was taken in the fourth round of the 2008 draft from Central Florida,’ or something. And I’ll be like, ‘How do you know that?’ And he’ll be like, ‘I can’t help it.'”
Of course, there are drawbacks to LeBron’s mental approach. Sometimes, he thinks too much as his mind is flooded with memories:
It’s June 2013, and James is riding back to the team hotel after Game 3 of the NBA Finals in San Antonio, with the Spurs having crushed the Heat by 36 points to take a 2-1 series lead. James was 7-of-21 shooting this night and in the midst of a poor Finals performance. Over the first three games, he was shooting just 38 percent and averaging 16.6 points, stunningly low numbers after what has been inarguably the finest season of his career. On the bus, he turns and confides to a friend.
“I’m thinking too much,” James says, “about 2007.”
I suggest you read Windhorst’s full article if you’re interested in learning more about this underexposed aspect of LeBron’s greatness.