LeBron James Says He's Motivated By Being The Best In The World, Not MVPs
For LeBron James, winning MVP awards has been a nice bonus.
But he has a much loftier goal.
"To be the best to ever play the game has motivated me and has resulted in me being able to be league MVP a couple times," James said at Lakers' practice Thursday. "But I’ve never gone into the season saying, ‘OK, league MVP is what I want to be.’ I’ve gone into the season saying, ‘OK, I want to be the MVP of this team. I want to be the best player in the world,’ and how I approach my game every day, how I take care of my body every day has resulted in that [award]."
At age 35, James leads the league in a assists with 10.7 a game, while averaging 25.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Lakers, who have the best record in the Western Conference at 47-13.
James, a four-time MVP, will go head-to-head with another frontrunner for the award in Giannis Antetokounmpo on Friday when the Lakers host the Milwaukee Bucks.
Antetokounmpo, the league's reigning MVP, is averaging 29.6 points, 13.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists a game for the Bucks, who have the best record in the league at 53-9.
The fact that James is even an MVP candidate at this stage in his career is stunning. He's a decade older than some of the other favorites, including the 25-year-old Antetokounmpo.
Anthony Davis said James deserves the award over Antetokounmpo.
"The things he does on the floor, he can shoot the ball, he can pass, he gets everyone involved," Davis said. "He can take over games. I saw Kendrick Perkins say something that he got robbed of four MVPs because he was in the east or something like that. I mean, you guys see when LeBron’s off the floor, how our team operates. We kind of struggle a little bit with him off the floor. And I think it’s about who is most valuable to their team. And for me, just being around it this whole season, my vote goes to LeBron."
James grew his game in new ways this season.
"Coming into the season, I didn’t know I would be the point guard of the team," James said. "It was discussed. It was talked about a little bit in the offseason. It was never set in place if I would be the primary ball handler for this ball club."
That role has pushed James, a three-time NBA champion, to develop and see the game differently in his 17th season.
"It has been a challenge and something I haven’t done since my rookie year," James said. "That was only half of a season. Maybe not even that long. I have had to challenge myself and change my game in that form and make sure I continue to get everybody involved on offense and set the tempo and put guys in position. I have done that a lot in my career. But it’s a lot different when you’re actually the point guard. If you’re a point guard, you would understand it. If not, it’s like, ‘What are you talking about? He’s always done this.’ But it’s totally different. That has been one of the biggest changes for me this year."
Lakers' coach Frank Vogel said James is unequivocally the MVP this season, pointing to his versatility.
"The body of work he’s put forth for our team, I don’t really think it compares to anybody else," Vogel said. "A lot of great performances throughout the year with other players, so I don’t want to take anything away from anyone else. But it’s pretty unbelievable what he does. What he means to us on both sides of the ball, defensive IQ, and the way he impacts the game with his strength, athleticism. Scoring the ball he does, but also leading the league in assists. And the most important stat is how much we’re winning. So to me, it’s his."
Davis went on to praise James for his work ethic and leadership style, but he also poked fun at his good friend for having a rare brain lapse late in the Lakers' win over Philadelphia on Tuesday, when he stepped over the baseline while throwing an inbounds pass.
"He made a comment the other day during the game that he’s a machine," Davis said. "He don’t like coming out of games because he’s a robot. Soon as he said that, the next play he had the little ‘Shaqtin’ A Fool’ thing. That was a little malfunction right there. Yeah, but he does the things necessary to give himself the title of being the best in the world.”
James said he's been able to stay so consistently excellent because he takes care of himself and constantly tries to improve.
"The only way I continue to be in the [MVP] conversation is through the grace of God," James said. "I’ve always respected the game. I believe when you give to the game, the game gives back to you. And the way I’ve been taking care of my body...I know it’s my temple. I know without [it], I can’t be anything. I can’t be on the floor. Then continue to have an open mind on how I can continue to get better. I want to continue to get better and see how far or how ceiling I can go in my career."
After leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first-ever NBA championship in 2016, James called himself the greatest player of all-time during an episode of ESPN's "More Than An Athlete."
On Thursday, James was asked how he'll ultimately judge whether he's accomplished that goal.
"In being the best in the world?" James said. "It’s just, I think it’s the games that I play, leadership, how my teammates feed off my presence and feed off my word. It’s so much more than, for me, being the best player in the world than just going out and doing it on the floor. I think leadership has a lot to do with it. Having a command. Holding yourself accountable. Allowing others to hold you accountable as well. So I have a lot of tiers to trying to be the best player in the world. It’s not just about the basketball side."