LeBron James’ age 35 season hasn’t just been historic for someone with his longevity; it has been downright surprising considering how his last season ended.
After missing the playoffs for the first time since his sophomore year and suffering the first major injury of his NBA career, James appeared mortal heading into the 2019-20 season. He was still counted among the best players in the league, but not in real consideration for the top slot.
As James’ #RevengeSZN would indicate, the King wasn’t happy about usurpers trying to claim his crown.
James’ individual offseason regimen was heightened this past summer, owing in part to the extra time he was afforded by not having a postseason. But the Lakers star wasn’t content just getting his own work in, he wanted to start building a championship team, so he organized a series of pickup games for his teammates at the Lakers practice facility. The goal was to get a jumpstart on creating chemistry. Instead of just playing against one another, James tried to get real competition for the Lakers, as Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported.
Like Jordan’s, James’s pickup games drew a collection of NBA talent. Chris Paul and Draymond Green; DeMar DeRozan and Buddy Hield. On the first morning Dudley arrived at the facility at 5:30; he was greeted by the sound of James lifting weights. When the game started, James insisted that the Lakers who were there—Davis, Dudley, guard Kentavius Caldwell-Pope and center JaVale McGee—play together. Against a collection of All-Stars, James’s group won four straight. After sitting out a game, the pickup Lakers came back and won two more. Says Dudley, “LeBron wasn’t playing around that day.”
It’s not exactly groundbreaking that a team including James and Anthony Davis would win a pickup game, no matter who was on the opposing team. Although Draymond Green and DeMar DeRozan are technically All-Stars, those honors are well past them. Nevertheless, the idea of Green and Jared Dudley trash talking during a summer pickup game sounds very enjoyable.
The point of all this is that the Lakers’ chemistry wasn’t some happy accident. James made it a priority for the team to get run together starting during the summer, and against meaningful opposition. Point guard LeBron was in full effect from the very beginning — something that head coach Frank Vogel made a priority this season — and the Lakers didn’t take the competition lightly. They played together and came together as a unit.
James is definitely one of the more jovial stars in the league, but he takes his craft very seriously, and that includes the art of team-building. After arguably the worst season of his professional career, it only makes sense that he would take the necessary steps to insure that performance was a one-time fluke.