MIAMI — Pat Riley has a theory 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 the Miami Heat 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.
It was practically a year beyond compare. James got his first NBA championship, was the league's MVP for the third time, 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 today, a Finals rematch on Christmas.
James will be center stage with the Heat-Thunder showdown part of the NBA's Christmas slate of nationally televised games including: The Boston Celtics vs. the Brooklyn Nets; New York Knicks against the Los Angeles Lakers; Houston Rockets taking on the Chicago Bulls; and the Denver Nuggets squaring off against the Los Angeles Clippers.
But no NBA player had a year like James.
No longer uncomfortable with the fallout for the way he exercised his right in 2010 to choose his own future, he 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, James said, by something greater.
He's has money. He would figure to contend for several more championships if he remains healthy. He has enormous fame. He is on top of his game and in his prime. The 27-year-old James is averaging 25.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists and the Heat are 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 keep trying to be innovative and make new, great things for consumers. They don't stop.
ESPN — Boston at Brooklyn, noon
ABC — New York at L.A. Lakers, 3 p.m.
ABC — Oklahoma City at Miami, 5:30 p.m.
ESPN — Houston at Chicago, 8 p.m.
ESPN — Denver at L.A. Clippers, 10:30 p.m.