LeBron James Reflects On How He Grew During His Time With The Miami Heat

James, who is about to play against the Heat in The Finals, led them to four-straight Finals appearances from 2011-2014, including two championships in 2012 and 2013.
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It's been 10 years since LeBron James alienated many people with a flashy live television announcement that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami. 

He went on to lead the Heat to four-straight NBA Finals appearances from 2011-2014, including two championships in 2012 and 2013. 

James' experience in Miami was formative.

He expanded his game, learned how to win and gained the wisdom of making all of his future free agency announcements with some humility and discretion.

Now, he's playing the Heat in the NBA Finals, trying to lead the Lakers to their first championship since 2010. 

The day before the opening game of the series, James was quick to credit the organization for helping turn him into who he is today. 

"I think every part of anybody's individual life where they were able to grow, it never leaves you," James said in a videoconference Tuesday. "That's no different for me having my four years in Miami, being around -- with that culture, growing. You guys don't realize, I talk about it, I went to Miami when I was 25 years old. I was 25. I was 25 to 29, so I was still growing. I was still a kid and still trying to figure out who I am as a person and as a man, growing while still trying to compete for a championship every single year."

James, now 35 years old, said he had some important teachers during that time. 

He called Miami team president Pat Riley "one of the greatest minds probably this game has ever had." He raved about coach Erik Spoelstra's preparation, adding, "It's unfortunate that he hasn't gotten his respect." And he credited former teammate Dwyane Wade for helping guide him. 

He learned a lot, Above all, how to lead. 

"I grew, and they allowed me to grow," James said. "We pushed each other every single day and, like I said, I fit perfectly in that culture because I worked just as hard as anybody else. I show up to work and I don't leave until I feel like I was as great as I was. Do you always become successful at it? Are you always going to win? No, it doesn't happen like that. But you're able to sleep a little bit better at night when you know you've punched the clock."

After leaving Miami in 2014, James went on to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first-ever championship in 2016. Now, James is trying to restore the Lakers franchise to glory after they missed the playoffs an unprecedented six-straight seasons. 

But he quickly squashed the notion that beating his former team has increased meaning for him. 

"Absolutely not," he said. "It's no extra meaning to winning a championship, no matter who you're playing against. It's already hard enough to even reach The Finals, to be in this position. If you're able to become victorious out of The Finals, it doesn't matter who it's against."

James has been to The Finals 10 times over his 17-season career, including nine of the last 10 seasons.

The lone gap was last season, his first with the Lakers, when he struggled with a groin injury that sidelined him 17-straight games.  

A reporter asked James how that brief break from the mountaintop impacted him. 

"How am I different today than two years ago when I entered the Finals?" James asked. "I've got a little bit more gray hair in my beard."