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LeBron James says 'Decision' criticism got to him

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. – LeBron James admits it: The fallout from his "Decision" to play for the Miami Heat – all the booing on the road, the poll that listed him as the NBA's most disliked player, the contempt from many in his home state of Ohio – wore on him last season.

But James also says he's since stopped listening to his critics – and judging from the level he's playing at this season, he might be right.

"I'm motivated to not let my teammates down. That's what it's about," James told Yahoo! Sports at an appearance to dedicate a renovated outdoor play area at the Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida. "I've gotten away from the 'hate' stuff. I played with that last year and it wasn't me."

James struggled in last season's NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks, when he was roundly ripped for playing too passively. After a long layoff because of the NBA's lockout, James opened this season with a 37-point performance that included 19 free-throw attempts in the Heat's victory in Dallas. He's scaled back his 3-point attempts to an average of just 2.2 per game and is averaging 27.4 points, 6.9 assists and a career-high 8.1 rebounds while shooting a career-best 54.7 percent.

"I'm back to just loving the game and playing at a high level, playing for my teammates and letting my game speak," James said.

For all his talent, James has yet to show the same type of killer mentality NBA champions like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Larry Bird owned. Bird said earlier this season that if he needed to win a game, he'd choose Bryant as a teammate over James. If he wanted to have more fun, Bird also said, he'd take James instead of Bryant.

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James sees himself as a player who would rather pick his offensive spots and get his teammates involved like Magic Johnson did when he won five titles for the Los Angeles Lakers.

"Champions come in different shapes, sizes and forms," James said. "Everyone always compares Kobe to Jordan and says they always have had that killer mentality. They always had that dagger, that dog. Then you look at Magic [Johnson], and people say that he was fun to play with. He was great. He always had his teammates' back. He always got his teammates involved. He was a champion as well.

"They come in different shapes and sizes and forms and different colors as well. For me, I see myself on the side of the Magic range where I love my teammates, love being around them. I want them to be happy as well. At the same time, dominate the game, as well. I got a long way to go still to get to [Jordan's and Bryant's] levels to get multiple championships. Hopefully, I can get there someday."

James' stellar season has been overshadowed by Jeremy Lin's debut with the New York Knicks. And it was James' Heat who held Lin to his worst game (eight turnovers, one basket) on Thursday.

"Anytime you go against someone that is really good, that's what our defense is built around, making guys uncomfortable," James said. "Lin is a very good player. The simple fact that it looked like we shut him down is because he is playing so well. The previous 10 games he hit a game-winner in Toronto and had 30-plus [points] against the Lakers. He did so many great things throughout those few games that he finally just had one bad game and it just happened to be against us.

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"Everything we do is about defense and trying to contain the best players on the opposing team. Luckily, we were able to do that against him."

James thinks Lin's popularity will benefit not only the Knicks, but the entire sport of basketball.

"The best thing about it is he's living a dream," James said, "and that's to be able to play basketball at the highest level."

James credits his own sharpened focus for the improvement in his game this season.

"For me, I love to play the game of basketball," James said. "That's my passion. Every night I go on the basketball court I try to play on a high level. That's the only thing I can worry about is playing on a high level for my teammates and my coaching staff and the city of Miami. At the end of the day I can be satisfied with my effort doing that because I know I gave it my all."

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