Six years ago, then-Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James found himself at the losing end of a four-game sweep by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. He'll again face Tim Duncan and company in 2013, and the current James promises he's a new player.
Smarter, more mature, a better jump shooter and now a member of the Miami Heat, James needs no extra motivation to seek revenge against the Spurs, he said during the Heat's NBA Finals media session on Wednesday.
"Well, I've lost enough," he said. "I don't need any more fuel from losing. I've lost two Finals, so I don't need any more fuel from losing the Finals."
The story goes that after the Spurs' sweep of the Cavs in 2007, Duncan met with James, telling him it'd be his league soon enough. To a degree it's true, but James will once again find San Antonio -- still with Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich -- in his way. Asked if the moment with a future Hall of Famer was special back then, James laughed.
"It's cool for you guys. It wasn't cool for me. It's been a while since I've seen the series. I'm pretty good about going back in my mental about what happened. It was tough," James said.
"I won't forget that. You shouldn't as a competitor. You should never forget that."
James has estimated he is as much as 50 percent better as a basketball player than he was six years ago. Teammate Dwyane Wade bumped that subjective guess to 70 percent. There's no denying that James is a different player these days, whatever the case. Through the losses every year but last year's title victory, James' respect for the process has grown. So too has his game, which now includes a confident jump shot that in 2007 appeared to be his downfall.
"They funneled me to the sideline with Duncan and [Fabricio] Oberto and Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley and those guys ... dared me to shoot it, and didn't allow me to get to the paint where I did most of my damage back in '07," James said, before adding, "You can't dare me to do anything I don't want to do in 2013."
Those words appear to come from confidence. And the motivation on top of it is as blatantly obvious as the new and improved James.