There was no telling if LeBron James would be able to live up to the massive amount of hype that surrounded him as he geared up to make the leap to the NBA as a high schooler, but he’s managed to do exactly that (and then some) during his legendary career.
There are a number of factors you can point to in an attempt to explain why LeBron has been so dominant over the course of the 20 seasons he’s played between the Cavaliers, Heat, and Lakers.
He obviously possesses an incredible work ethic that has allowed him to become really, really, really, ridiculously good at basketball, which is manifested in his skills on the court and the impressive build defined by an ideal balance of speed, power, and strength.
James is also one of many athletes who understands the importance of the mental aspect of the sport he plays (as evidenced by his iconic “two points ain’t two points” comment in the playoffs in 2018), and his mere presence on the court can be enough to get into the head of his opponents.
Al Horford highlighted that reality with the fairly eye-opening anecdote he shared while speaking with J.J. Redick on a recent episode of The Old Man and the Three podcast where he discussed how LeBron was able to take advantage of his conditioning to gain a psychological edge on the Celtics when they faced off against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018.
Here’s what he had to say:
“It was Game 7; about four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. It was still a very close game.
We’re getting out of the timeout and I’m looking at Marcus Morris, I’m looking at Jayson Tatum, Terry [Rozier], Jaylen [Brown], myself—we’re gassed. It’s Game 7 and we’re giving everything we have.
I’m in great shape and I’m still just very tired from the game, and I look at the other side and [LeBron] is sitting on the scorer’s table just kind of leaning very casual. He’s played every single minute up to that point and he looked unfazed. He looked unbothered.
To me, that was disturbing. The fitness level, the conditioning, I think it’s something people don’t realize.”
Cleveland was up by three points when that timeout was called, and LeBron would go on to score six of the 35 points he posted in the contest after returning to the court to help the Cavs punch their ticket to the NBA Finals.