LeBron ended my NBA title hopes three times. He's even better now – in every sense

I know from my own experience how great a basketball player LeBron James is. When I was with the Washington Wizards, we faced a Cleveland Cavaliers team led by the young LeBron for three years. And they beat us for three years in a row.
His skills, visions, and superhuman abilities were evident. I was on the court for his first career playoff game in 2006 when a 21-year-old LeBron set up a triple double with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
Etan Thomas
But he was never just a great player. He was a great teammate too. Throughout the series, my teammate Gilbert Arenas had molested - and dominated - Damon Jones to the point where the Cavaliers Guard's performance deteriorated and he was sat on a bench. LeBron took action. Gilbert had two free throws to seal Game 6 and reach the best-of-seven series 3-3. After missing the first shot, LeBron sauntered over to Gilbert and whispered in his ear, "If you miss this, you will know who will finish the game." Gilbert was missing and I could only watch LeBron center the next game the lane drove and they kicked Damon, who sank a 23-foot-foot from the baseline to eliminate us from the playoffs. At just 21, LeBron knew he shouldn't be the one to seal the series. Instead, he wanted Damon to be the hero and regain some pride after Gilbert embarrassed him. Though this ended our season, I respected the way LeBron had his teammate's back.
He showed that empathy again when we faced the Cavaliers in the 2008 playoffs. I recently had heart surgery and LeBron took the time to wonder how my recovery was going. He joked that he didn't have to work out a game plan against me after the operation, but he was also sincere when he said I should think about my health first.
I find it strange when people are so sure they know the personality and character of an athlete like LeBron from what they see on TV or read on Twitter. I remember when the whole country turned on LeBron after "The Decision". The charge was that LeBron wasn't good enough to win a title in Cleveland alone and had to move to the Miami Heat, where he could get help from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That he was arrogant when he got to Miami and talked about forming a dynasty to compare it to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. That he "disappeared" when the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 final.
But even if these allegations are true, they ignore the fact that athletes are advancing. Mavericks CEO Mark Cuban admitted when I interviewed him for my show The Rematch.
"He's got the basketball IQ level now, he's just a basketball fan. The way he sees and reads what's going on on the pitch in real time and is three steps ahead is amazing," said me the Cuban. "And he didn't [2011]. We would run a zone against him and he would hesitate and not know what to do. He won't hesitate now. He knows exactly what is coming and what to do and what to expect.
“He can talk to you about a basketball game and [he can describe] every single game that happened, like some of us were talking about a book we just read. These two things are vastly different. He can hit you in so many different ways now. His skills have improved. His death. But they all tie in with his basketball IQ. And that is something that is not as developed as it is now. "
However, many were reluctant to let LeBron grow. In fact, his performance this season - both on and off the pitch - should have silenced all of his critics. He led the Lakers within an NBA championship game the same year his friend (and the Lakers legend) Kobe Bryant died. Meanwhile, he showed his willingness to use his platform to talk about racism, police brutality and the importance of voting. In fact, in one of the most important elections in US history, he started More Than A Vote, a voting rights organization that campaigns against the suppression of voters. More Than a Vote has also signed 10,000 election volunteers and praised Barack Obama.
Even so, I'm sure the dedicated LeBron James haters will find something new to complain about. Not that it would bother him if he wins another title on Friday night.

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