Before reaching the pinnacle of professional basketball, LeBron James was run over by the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs swept James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals, so long ago that the winning game plan focused on exploiting James’ weaknesses. Those are nearly impossible to find now, and James essentially warned the Spurs that they should not bother looking.
The Spurs already know.
“He’ll be a lot more of a problem than he was in ’07, that’s for sure,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said on Wednesday.
Tim Duncan told the beaten James minutes after that series that the league would someday belong to him and he was right. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player guided Miami to last year’s championship and the league’s best record this season.
Now the Spurs will try to take it back.
However, James is now the best player in the game, is surrounded by more talent in Miami than he ever had in Cleveland and still carries the memory of the beating the Spurs dealt him six years ago.
“I have something in me that they took in ’07. Beat us on our home floor, celebrated on our home floor. I won’t forget that. You shouldn’t as a competitor. You should never forget that,” James said.
He joined the Heat in 2010, experienced more finals failure a year later, then was finals MVP last year, when Miami beat Oklahoma City in five games. Another title now would put him halfway to the four that Duncan and Popovich have won together.
“That’s what I’m here for,” James said. “I’m here to win championships, and you’re not always going to be on the successful side. I’ve seen it twice, not being on the successful side.”
He was just 22 at the end of his fourth year in the league when he carried the Cavs to their first finals appearance. However, there were holes in his game, from an unreliable jump shot to an undeveloped post game, and the Spurs took advantage of every one of them.
James shot 36 percent in the series, including a ghastly 10-for-30 in Game 4, and committed 23 turnovers.
“Well, LeBron is a different player than he was in ’07,” Popovich said. “That was like ancient history. He was basically a neophyte at the time, wondering how all this stuff worked and how it’s put together. We were very fortunate at that time to get him so early, but at this point he’s grown.”
James was not interested in discussing much of that series, but he recalled the way the Spurs’ strategy kept him from getting into the paint and dared him to shoot jumpers.
There is no blueprint now that would encourage a guy who made 56.5 percent of his shots this season to shoot the ball.
“If you go under my pick-and-roll now, I’m going to shoot, and I’m confident I’m going to make every last one of them,” James said. “I’m just more confident in my ability to shoot the ball, but at the same time, I also have a lot more weapons this time around going against this team, where in ’07 they loaded three guys to me a lot on the strong side of the floor. So like I said, I’m a better player and you can’t dare me to do anything I don’t want to do in 2013.”
Duncan and James probably would not have thought it would take so long to see each other in the finals again after their meeting in the hallway of Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. San Antonio had built a quiet dynasty, winning four titles in nine years, and the core of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili would keep giving the Spurs chances.