It’s safe to say that, during his long career, we’ve seen multiple versions of LeBron James.
He carried a jovial, at times goofy attitude with him during his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. When he became villainized for joining the Miami Heat via a convoluted TV special, he seemed to take pleasure in being the bad guy. After having some sense knocked into him with the 2011 Finals loss, it was the first time he became truly and solely dedicated to being the best player in the NBA.
However, the iteration of James we’re seeing during this current season with the Cavaliers is unlike anything we’ve seen, at least with this team.
James has already shown an incredibly noticeable intensity just a month into the new campaign. He’s shown visable dissatisfaction with poor play from a few of his teammates, and also recently held a players only meeting after a loss brought the Cavs’ record to 11-4.
It seems, though, that his passion stretches even farther than this.
Per Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, James has gone out of his way to ensure his team is taking this season – and particularly his quest to bring his city its first title since 1964 – as seriously as possible. This means, among other things, banning Hoverboards (a popular item with some teammates) from the arena, stepping up the team dress code and completely dumping pre-game introductions. Instead, the players now simply take the court and await their opponent before tip-off.
What may come off as a player getting a bit too strict with his teammates instead just goes to show how much James meant every word of his letter stating his return to Cleveland. Winning a championship for the city truly is the most important thing to him, and the intensity he’s showing in this still-young season is all the proof you’ll need.
It’s also something Cavs fans have never seen from James during his stints in Cleveland. Though always talented, James never seemed even remotely as determined as he is now during his first years as a Cavalier. It seemed as though he put as much time into pregame intro routines as he did with practice.
Last year, he seemed motivated, sure. At the same time, it also often came off as pouting, at least in the first half of the season. James appeared cranky and just not willing to deal with his new teammates. He was also guilty of blatantly coasting on more than a few occasions, even playing on what he called “chill mode.”
It’s safe to say anyone who openly claimed they were in a chill mode would be verbally destroyed by James this season. Not when players are getting scolded for less, like not dressing well off the court.
No, this year, James doesn’t appear to be interested in being anything less than relentless in his pursuit of a title. If it means being strict with his teammates, going out of his way to force the fact that this is a business, that fun can be had as long as the team is playing to the best of its abilities, then so be it.
Despite the excitement he carried with him in his return to Cleveland last season, it’s safe to say this win-at-all-costs mentality wasn’t nearly as noticeable then as it is now. Additionally, when the Cavs lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 Finals, James certainly didn’t return the next season as intense as he has after losing to the Golden State Warriors last postseason.
Obviously, just because the version of James Cavs fans are seeing right now is new hardly means it’s a bad thing. I’d be hard-pressed to find any Cleveland athlete from the past few decades this dedicated to winning it all. It makes you wonder what kind of difference this attitude could make with the underperforming Cleveland Indians and the always-abysmal Cleveland Browns.
Clearly James’ dedication reaching newfound levels is going to be an ongoing adjustment for the rest of the Cavs. However, the fact it’s rooted simply in wanting nothing less than a championship shouldn’t make it too difficult to buy into. James has never been this hell-bent on winning it all while in Cleveland, and at the moment, it’s tough to find any sort of complaints about his brand new mindset.