NBA — What LeBron James said — and what he meant — during Thursday’s interview

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CLEVELAND — A day after falling behind 3-0 in the Finals, LeBron James gave one of his most thoughtful and wide-ranging news conferences of the last year.

He touched on a number of subjects including comparing his move to Miami to Kevin Durant‘s move to Golden State, whether he wants to avoid a sweep for historical reasons, answering critics for passing to Kyle Korver in the final minute and his future plans.

Below is a partial transcript of James’ comments, marked by highlights and italicized annotations.

Editor’s note: We are not including the press conference’s first two questions in which James expressed his condolences to the family of longtime NBA executive Todd Harris — who passed away Tuesday at age 47 — as well as how the Cavaliers must play better down the stretch in Game 4.

Q. Having changed teams a couple times and knowing how hard it can be, how long can it take for it all to come together? Can you appreciate for Kevin [Durant] maybe, how fortunate maybe he is that it looks like he found a situation for him where it just blends perfectly right and maybe it can be quicker, he can find a fulfillment easier?

LeBron James: Well, first of all, with all the success that he’s gotten throughout his career, I’ve always been proud of him and I’m always excited to see him grow as a player. I don’t think that our careers are the same as far as changing teams. Their team was already kind of put together, and you just implement a guy that’s ready to sacrifice, a great talent, a guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. But that team, they knew what they were about. He just had to come in and just do what he had to do. And that’s what he been doing.

This could be perceived as James taking a minor dig at Durant, that he joined a powerhouse team that was already built. In the past, James has noted the difference of going to Miami with Chris Bosh to build a contender and had he gone to Boston and played with the then powerhouse of the East that had beaten him twice in the playoffs. Though James has generally been supportive and continues to be throughout this interview.

LJ: For me, when I left here to go to Miami, we had to build something. We brought in eight or nine guys, and we had to build something. And when I came back here, we built something again. But I can definitely appreciate the simple fact of him either reshaping his game or just sacrificing maybe some shots here, sacrificing having the ball in his hands all the time. But it works for their team. I mean, who wouldn’t want to sacrifice playing on a Golden State team or a San Antonio team or a Cleveland team when you know the ultimate result is you can actually compete for a championship.


Q. We know that you don’t put too much importance on almost any one game outside of a Game 7, obviously, but would getting one tomorrow, how important would that be for you, whether it be to stop history, to avoid a sweep, whatever the case?

LJ: My mindset is to try to get every game. Tomorrow’s another important opportunity for us and for myself, obviously, to continue the series. It’s been a long season, and you hate for it to end this way. So mentally and physically, I got to prepare myself for that.


Q. You touched on this a little bit last night, but even before this series you were — kind of knew this was going to be a tough one. Having played these guys now three games, is the challenge — is it different than you anticipated? What have you learned about the Golden State team?

LJ: Well, you knew they were resilient, for one. I watched a lot of film on them, and I knew it was going to be one of the toughest challenges I’ve had because of the firepower they have, because of the mindset that they were going to have. And they’re a hungry group. You can sense that. You’ve seen that throughout the postseason. You’ve seen it for the first three games of The Finals, and they have so much talent, a ton of talent. And they work well together. It’s not one guy on that team that’s selfishly looking for himself and not for the team. When you can combine talent, you can combine unselfishness, and then you can combine guys that play hard, that’s going to result in some really good things. I sensed that from not only watching the film before the series started but also now playing in the series.


Q. After watching film now, that possession where after KD hit the 3, were you comfortable with that? Is that what you guys were looking for? It seemed like a lot of time was wasted on that possession?

LJ: Well, after KD hit the 3, I think that’s where Kyrie missed the jumper, right? He had it going as far as the one-on-one matchup, and he’s an exceptional one-on-one player. We take it. We take it. He was pretty down about the shot attempt that he got. But, listen, like I said, it’s a miss-or-make league, and he left everything on the floor. He did everything he could. And obviously when you miss the shot, you always are going to say, well, we could have got a better possession. But we live with that. We live with our star point guard taking a shot that he’s capable of making. He just missed it, and that was the result of it.


Q. The plus-minus numbers last night with you on the court versus off the court were reflective of some of the numbers we saw throughout the regular season and also reflective of the team’s record when you — playing a game versus not playing a game. What can be done moving forward to empower this team to be able to perform at a consistent level when you’re taking a break or from a game or from a brief rest in a game?

This is one of the biggest questions facing the Cavs this offseason. It was magnified in Game 3, where the team was plus-7 with James on the court and minus-12 off. This season the Cavs were 0-8 when James didn’t play.

LJ: I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that right now. Obviously I hate the fact that we’re not able to — you know, just try to keep the leads, and if I come out of the game or not, even keep the leads, just sustain it. I hate it for my teammates, I hate it for myself, I hate it for everybody that’s involved. And last night, it was another one of those instances. I came out with 1:43 I believe in the first quarter, we were up 31-29, and then they went on a quick 10-0 run. It’s 39-31. Well, 32 after they reviewed the three that added another point. And against a team like this, those type of runs you just can’t afford.

And like you say, throughout the course of the regular season or throughout the course of the postseason, we just have to find better ways to, as a collective unit, having the right pieces out on the floor or the guys on the floor, they have to do their job, and try to do it at a high level, no matter who is out on the floor. So something we have to figure out.


Q. Ten years ago you began your Finals run against a team that was in the midst of a dynasty. Now you’re up against a team that looks like it’s built to last. Does that change the challenge, does that fuel you? How do you feel about that?

The Spurs swept James and the Cavs in 2007 — it was San Antonio’s fourth title in nine years. Whether or not that qualifies as a dynasty is up for debate, but it was the only time James has been swept. In this answer, James takes a bit of a “woe is me” stance but once again praises the Warriors and admits he’s facing another juggernaut team for years to come.

LJ: Well, I think it’s just part of my calling to just go against teams in the midst of a dynasty. This has been the best team in our league the last three years. They won a championship, and last year it was the greatest regular-season team we had played, probably one of the best postseason teams that everybody’s ever seen as well, but we were just able to overcome that. And they’re playing like one of the best teams once again. So like I said, there have been times throughout my career where I just played teams that were just in the midst of something that can last for a long time. And obviously this team is built to be able to do that with the talent that they have. Obviously you never know what’s going to happen, but as it stands right now, they look pretty good, as far as the future.


Q. I know you don’t like to look too far down the road, but as well as you’re playing and as good as you’re feeling, have you kind of recalibrated how long you want to stay around?

LJ: I don’t know. I don’t know. I feel good. I actually feel better. I don’t feel good right now, but I feel pretty good where my game is right now. But I don’t know. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it, how long I want to stay around. I definitely want to compete. I want to compete for championships every year, and so we’ll see what happens.

When it comes to his future, James clearly doesn’t know, but he’s said all season he feels good and continues to imply he wants to continue playing for a while.


Q. Obviously you’re no stranger to criticism, right? There are some people that feel that with 50 seconds left in the game, you guys up two, they would like to see you kind of force more in those moments to try to score that basket yourself as opposed to dishing it away. I’m just curious to know what your message to those critics would be.

James gave a bemused expression to this question but at the same time was glad to get it. He showed restraint in answering, but this is one of the most artful ways he’s ever expressed his view on the subject. If a translation of this could be offered, it would probably look like this: (expletive) critics.

LJ: I don’t know if you’ve been here for the last couple years or heard me talk. I don’t even really care. I had a 101 drives last night. I didn’t have 101, but you get the gist of it. I’m sorry I didn’t go for 102. But at the end of the day I don’t really — what is a critic? It doesn’t matter. One of my favorite quotes, when I really stopped caring about what people say, is Theodore Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena. So if you read that, you’ll see where I’m at right now in my life. It doesn’t matter to me.

Starting in his second season in Miami, James posted Roosevelt’s famous 1910 speech in his locker.


Q. If you could have the play over again, would you still make that same pass?

LJ: If I could have the play over again, I would come off a three screen situation. Draymond would switch on me with five fouls. I would get him leaning. I would drive left. I would see KD step up. I would see Stephen Curry drop on Kevin [Love]. And I would see Kyle Korver in the corner, one of the greatest 3-point shooters in this league’s history, and give him an opportunity in the short corner. I would do the same exact thing.

James did not drop the mic here, but he could have.


Q. To your earlier point about KD, when you changed teams and went to Miami, it was a different time. In order to get a player of your caliber or Kevin’s caliber, you had to pretty much clear the decks and start over. Now you have a situation where a team is able to be a championship team already and add a player of Kevin’s caliber. Is that good or bad for the league, in your opinion? And for a guy who pours his heart and soul into this, is it fair?

James is about to give a simple yet profound explanation of the collective bargaining agreement, where he reminds about his knowledge of the intricacies of the league and his status as player’s union vice president.

LJ: Oh, I mean, it’s part of the rules. The difference between my situation is — well, the best thing with Golden State’s situation is a lot of their guys are drafted. They drafted a lot of their guys. Three of their best players were already drafted, so they were able to hold on to them because they own the Bird rights, if everybody knows the CBA. So they’re able to keep Steph, Klay and Draymond and able to go out and sign someone else like they did this past summer by just getting rid of a couple pieces in Harrison Barnes and not re-signing Barbosa and Bogut and guys from last year’s team. So that allowed them to go do that.

My case, going to Miami, we had to clear a lot of space because they didn’t have anybody as far as guys that they wanted to keep as far as Bird rights besides U.D. [Udonis Haslem] and D-Wade. They had the opportunity to go get two of us, and they did that in me and Bosh, and then we were able to finagle a way to get Mike Miller because some of us took pay cuts, and got some other guys. We had Rio [Mario Chalmers] because he was drafted. But it was a different situation. Totally different. Totally different. But is it fair? I don’t care. I mean, I think it’s great. It’s great for our league. Right now, look at our TV ratings, look at the money our league is pouring in. I mean, guys are loving the game, our fans love the game. I mean, who am I to say if it’s fair or not?

James says he doesn’t pay attention to media in the playoffs, but this isn’t wholly true as he’s clearly aware of the strong television ratings the Finals have been getting on ABC. Game 3 was up 14 percent in metered markets from last season.

LJ: No matter who I’m going against, if I’m going against four Hall of Famers, like I said before the series started with Draymond, Klay, Steph, and KD, or if I’m going against two or whatever the case may be, I’m always excited to play the game. And I’m not one to judge and say if it’s fair or not if guys are adding players to their team. So that’s what you want to do. Is it fair that the New York Yankees in the ’90s was adding piece after piece after piece after piece? I mean, if you have the opportunity to do that — is it fair that the Cowboys added Deion Sanders?

James became a fan of both the Yankees and the Cowboys as a kid growing up in Ohio the 1990s in large part because of the star power they had on their team at the time. He wears a different practice uniform — No. 6 — than he wears in the games — No. 23 — because he was inspired by Sanders who did the same thing during his time in the NFL.

LJ: I mean, listen. It happens. It’s sports. You have an opportunity to sign one of the best players, and you can do it, go ahead and do it. Why not? If I become an owner, I’m going to try to sign everybody. Appreciate it.

James’ drop the mic moment came here as he walked away. He’s said on several occasions he wants to become a professional sports owner in the future.



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