The fans were colder than the freezing lake effect temperatures, but LeBron James certainly brought the heat in his return to Cleveland with a dazzling 38-point performance. The highlight of the night was not a play, but LBJ's ability to focus on the task at hand and thrive off the negative energy directed his way.
Truth be told, no one has or probably ever will face anything close to the on-court hostility James encountered in his not-so-celebrated "home"coming. "I wouldn't wish this upon my own worst enemy," said former NBA All-Star and current TNT commentator Reggie Miller, who knows a thing or two about rallying against a brutal crowd (watch Miller take on the New York Knicks and Spike Lee).
"So many things went through my mind," was all James disclosed regarding his mental state before and during the game. How did he find his comfort zone with 20,000+ fans incessantly booing every time he touched the ball?
Pre-game nerves sending shockwaves through your body? Read on to find how you can diffuse them—and how LeBron managed to keep his cool.
Stick With Your Routine
Shaq bet he wouldn't do it; Charles Barkley challenged him to during the pre-game telecast. And 'Bron followed through with his trademark pre-game powder toss in front of the scorer's table. "Having a really sound routine is something you must focus on," says sport psychologist and pro golf caddy, Dr. Rob Bell. When things go wrong, he says, "One thing you should always get back to is your routine."
Control The Shots
You have no control of what others will say or do, so why bother worrying about it? "That's what gets a player off their game, worrying about the aspects you can't control," Bell says. What you can control is your preparation, your focus and your self-esteem. "When you focus on what you can control and really buy into that, that's when you get to be mentally tough." If last night's game was any indication, we'd say James is a control freak.
Challenge vs. Threat
The key to building mental toughness, according to Bell, is to view hard-knock situations as a challenge, not a threat. Feeling threatened—especially in a hostile environment—is the worst thing you can do. That threatened feeling often causes an athlete to start pressing in the game—e.g., forcing shots, being overaggressive and basically trying to do too much. That wasn't the case with James. Loose from the start, he eased himself into the game, took what was given to him, and gave a whole lot back in return, especially in the third quarter (24 points on 10-of-12 from the field).
Have Fun Out There
"The missing link is the fun factor; you play better when you have fun," Bell says. LBJ is a fun-loving guy, and last night he was having a ball. It may have been more ill-conceived than genuine when James was chatting up the Cavs bench or emphatically nodding his head after a big play. Nonetheless, "the Lyin' King" (as one of the many fan signs described him) settled into his comfort zone and single-handedly turned this much-anticipated matchup into a laugher.
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