LeBron James makes his LA Lakers competitive home debut on Saturday night and ahead of his Staples Center bow we asked one of his former coaches what makes the four-time MVP so special and if he is better than Michael Jordan…
King James swapped East for West this summer as he left his hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Lakers as a free agent on a four-year £117.2m contract.
He kicked off his debut season with 26 points in a debut defeat to Portland but his deal is the longest he has signed since his six-year contract with the Miami Heat in 2010 as he looks to bring a first NBA Championship to the Lakers since the days of Kobe Bryant eight years ago.
James’ last Championship win came in 2016 with the Cavaliers while his other two victories were with the Heat in 2012 and 2013. In each of those three wins he was awarded the NBA Finals MVP.
A man who has seen James close-up is Neal Meyer, coach and video co-ordinator at the Cavaliers in James’ final season there in 2010.
“I spent 16 years with five different teams and I was able to be around great players but the thing about LeBron is he’s got that whole package: he’s got the size, the strength and the basketball IQ,” says Meyer, now NBA associate vice president of basketball operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“He’s not afraid to take big shots and is willing to take the responsibility if he misses it.
“He can be that coach on the court, a leader and he’s an unselfish player who’s willing to make that extra pass or sacrifice a shot.
“He’s got a good personality. He’s super friendly and is always very cordial and open.
“But the thing about him which makes him so good is his ability to work with the coaches and use his IQ to help.
“A coach may not see things but with LeBron on the court he’s able to have that communication to help your offence and defence be more successful.”
This season looks set to be a historic one for James: he needs 1,229 points to move fourth on the all-time NBA point’s scorers list which would put him above Michael Jordan, who currently occupies that position.
And barring injury it will happen – James’ lowest points-scoring season came in his rookie year with the Cavaliers in 2003-04 when he scored 1,654 points.
Jordan though, won six rings in six finals all with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s and some argue he is the greatest of all-time.
But what does Meyer think, having worked with several NBA teams during Jordan’s era of dominance?
He said: “It’s a tough question and obviously it’s debated all the time.
“They’re from different eras but the difference between the two is that Michael was much more of a finesse player – he made his shots just look fluid and comfortable.
“Whereas LeBron is more of a physical dominating presence than Michael was. He has that power game but not as much of that finesse so what he does looks great but it doesn’t have that glamour part to it.
“But I think he’s different in that he’s willing to make the extra pass.
“It’s hard to say who’s the best of all time but right now I would say Michael, although LeBron’s story is still being written.”
At 33-years-old, James is heading into the closing chapters of his career and the Lakers will need to manage his game time to keep him fresh in the coming years when they will be expected to challenge.
Last season he averaged a league-leading 36.9 minutes per game in the regular season and 41.9 minutes per game in the post-season.
His astonishing workload saw Dallas Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan label him “a freak of nature”.
Meyer added: “James was always in the gym, doing his rehab and doing whatever he needed to do to keep his body fit.
“But then he would spend time before and even after practice working on his game.
“He’s very focused and trains hard. His athleticism, his maintenance of his body – to be able to do that is not easy.
“I think this is the first summer in a while where he’s really had a break and sometimes less is more.”
LeBron James will make his competitive home debut for the LA Lakers against the Houston Rockets on Sunday morning, live on Sky Sports Arena and free to all Sky subscribers on Sky Sports Mix at 3.30am.
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