LeBron James finally won that elusive first NBA title, but it’s how the NBA superstar got to the pinnacle of his sport that most impressed Tiger Woods.
Sure, James had an “unbelievable playoffs” on his way to leading the Miami Heat to a resounding four games to one thrashing of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Woods told reporters Tuesday ahead of this week’s AT&T National at Congressional Country Club. It’s the work that the future basketball legend put in, however, that left the 14-time major champion shaking his head.
“What he did in The Finals is just absolutely amazing, actually the whole year. People forget he was MVP of the year,” Woods said. “He showed every single facet of his game. Things he needed to work on versus last year showed up and ... were dominant.”
So dominant, in fact, that Woods, who shares a December 30 birthday with the 27-year-old former Cleveland Cavalier, likened James’ growing skills to that of another hoopster who has been, at least in the past, among the chosen few within Tiger’s inner circle.
“It's pretty neat to see somebody who's that talented work on his game and then display it under the most extreme conditions,” Woods said. “We saw it with M.J. [Michael Jordan]; he couldn't jump over everybody with the Pistons and eventually learned a different shot, and he mastered going off his right hand, left shoulder. It didn't matter, he could fade away either shoulder.
“To me it's just amazing to watch player development like that,” said Woods, who knows a thing or two about advancing his own game. Indeed, Woods, whose first two rounds at the recent U.S. Open had many in the golf world ready to etch his name on his 15th major trophy, believes his own swing changes resemble the alterations James and Jordan made to their games.
“Absolutely,” he said about the need to adapt his play if he hoped to continue playing and winning when he’s 50. “I didn't want to play the way I did because it hurt, and it hurt a lot. Was I good at it? Yeah, I was good at it, but I couldn't go down that road, and there's no way I could have had longevity in the game if I would have done that.
“Four knee surgeries later, here we are,” said the 2009 AT&T National winner. “I finally have a swing that it doesn't hurt, and I am still generating power, but it doesn't hurt anymore.”
As for the haters who will never forgive Woods and James for their off-the-field transgressions (the former for his serial philandering and the latter for the way he announced his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami in 2010), Woods believes you’re missing out if you don’t appreciate King James in all his splendor.
“It's fun to just sit back and watch,” said Woods. “I think that we should all look at what he's done and just sit back and watch one of the greatest players to ever play.”