When the Miami Heat won the NBA championship in June of 2012, they did so mainly on the strength of LeBron James’ emerging interior game. LeBron wasn’t endlessly tossing down jump hook after jump hook in that championship round, and to his credit his strength as a creative scorer and passer in the low post had been in place for years, but his comfort level on the mid and low block was light years ahead of where it was in years’ past. He was starting possessions from 12 or 15 feet away from the hoop instead of the customary 25, and it made all the difference in Miami’s world (championship).
The most obvious link to the step from hesitant post-worker to championship-grabbing post-dominator was the trip to Texas James made in the summer of 2011. Two-time NBA champion and 1994 MVP Hakeem Olajuwon put James through the paces in a training session we talked about here, and just today (via Twitter user @ningrim), video of the workout has surfaced.
It’s for the basketball junkies, to be sure, but it’s a fun watch that has me dying to find my way to the low block in an empty gym. Watch:
As you can see, the video is less about LeBron taking endless amounts of jump hooks over imaginary defenders. Rather, it seems to be more focused on clearing James’ mind as he works closer to the basket. How there doesn’t have to be a set play, and how James can use his big man size and guard skills (something Olajuwon had in spades) to keep defenders on edge.
Really, the whole workout seems kind of loose, and that’s probably what put LeBron over the top. Hakeem isn’t teaching him efficient and perfect-to-the-centimeter approaches to nailing short shots, these aren’t tight releases that you’d see from someone like Alonzo Mourning. Rather, there are a lot of twirls in this clip. Lots of spins and loose jab-steps. It really seems like an exercise in exploring options and feeling safe in your arsenal, rather than perfecting options.
LeBron James was introduced to us years ago as some sort of ridiculous Magic Johnson/Michael Jordan hybrid. He spent the bulk of his high school, AAU, and Cleveland Cavaliers career attempting to break down defenses with a dribble while his eyes faced the basket the entire time. Considering the teammates LeBron had around him, it was a sound approach most of the time because few can stay in front of James even if they’re aware of his approach and intent.
In the 2011 Finals, though? When the Mavs went to a modified zone and James looked clueless, while his team begged for a creative type to work in the teeth of that defense close to the hoop? He failed his team. There’s no way around it.
And then he went to work. And he went to the low post, and the Miami Heat went to a championship parade as a result.
Thanks, LeBron. Thanks, Hakeem. Anything’s better than dribbling into a one-on-five.