It should go without saying that Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James is going to be the team's primary leader. Yes, players like Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma will be leaders in the locker room too. But James is a battle-tested king, a gladiator who can teach the young Lakers the many lessons they need to become champions.
With the NBA tip-off just days away, James spoke to Los Angeles Times' Tania Ganguli about his growth as a leader and what he expects as he tries to guide his third team to the NBA Finals. As you might expect, James' evolution wasn't not only based on his experiences on the court but also his learnings off of it as well.
“I can’t give you like a definite point in time, but in my 16-year career I’ve learned every year how to be more and more and more of a leader,” James said. “And more of a communicator and how I can communicate to certain guys and get the best out of certain guys. One thing that you learn when you become a parent is that if you have multiple kids, to get the most out of your kids, you can’t teach them all the same way.”
James has had a storied career in the NBA, to say the least. Many will tell he's a rival to the throne of Michael Jordan, if not the player that should be crowned as the greatest of all-time. However, his path wasn't one devoid of obstacles.
He came into the league as a 19-year-old that was expected to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Promised Land. He brought excitement and playoff success in his first seven years with the Cavs, even taking them to the Finals in 2007. However, throughout those seven years, Cleveland hardly kept a stable lineup around James. He had to learn how to lead his teammates, whether it was Mo Williams or Antawn Jamison, Larry Hughes or Jamario Moon.
In Miami, James would have more continuity but the sheer fact that he “took his talents to South Beach” required him to learn how to handle the pressure, lead by example and be a true champion. By the time he returned to Cleveland, he was the most level-headed he had been in his career.
Still, he had a new challenge: teaching young and talented players like Kyrie Irving how to win at the highest level.
James is far from the only player expected to have playoff success early in their career and with that knowledge, he can approach the players as peers — no matter their age difference. His time with players like Irving has prepared him for the task of mentoring the Kuzmas, Brandon Ingrams and Lonzo Balls of the world.
“You get more and more comfortable with how to approach them, how to get the best out of them, how to lead them, how to respect them as well because we are all professionals,” James said. “Even though they are younger than me, we are all professionals so you have to keep that in mind.
Having faced a fair amount of adversity himself, James is also understanding of the growing pains that his young teammates will face and prepared for them.
“I think it will be a learning experience for them,” James said. “Some of them, they don’t know. You can’t expect them to know. So you have to understand, you have to guide them and teach them and allow them to make mistakes because I believe the best teacher in life is experience, so you have to allow them to make mistakes and fall on their face and get back up and see how they react to that.”
Whether the young Lakers respond to the challenges or make it to the postseason, James' wisdom is going to be beneficial as they try to bridge the gap in potential and reality.