LeBron James plays his best when he is comfortable.
He’s not wired like a Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett, who turn insults real and perceived into fuel that motivates them and gets them into their zone. LeBron needs to tune out the outside world to get in his zone, and in playoff runs past he has struggled to do that.
This time he has found his place — he has his family with him in Miami, he is reading books in the locker room before every game — and it has him closer than he has ever been to an NBA championship. LeBron and the Heat are up 3-1 over the Thunder and can close it out at home in Game 5 Thursday night.
Finding his comfort zone started with having his fiancé and two sons join him in Miami. They were still in Akron last year but moved down to Miami during the lockout. But that family is giving him space.
“Since the postseason everyone has been shut down,” LeBron said about the distractions that family can bring. “They understand what I’ve been going through over the years. My family has just been allowing me to just play the game and not worry about everything else that’s going on. They wouldn’t dare get in my way at this point.”
To release that pressure on game night, James has turned to reading in the locker room before games. The LeBron James book club has read Jerry West’s autobiography “West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life” (which I recommend highly), “Decoded” by Jay-Z and a series of other books including the Hunger Games trilogy.
“It just slows my mind down,” LeBron said. “It just gives me another outlet. Throughout the playoffs all you think about is basketball. All you want to do is play basketball. But at the same time it can become a lot. It can come to a point where it’s overloading the mind and you think about it too much…
“The reading gave me an opportunity to — just for those couple hours of the day, or those 20, 25 minutes before the game — just gives me an opportunity to read and think about something else, and get a sense of what else is going on besides the game of basketball. It’s made me comfortable.”
And that comfort has led to a finals MVP kind of playoff run. It has led James to be within one more win of his ultimate goal. It has brought him closer to living up to his potential than at any time in his past.
We’ll see if it can help him take that last, big step to NBA champion.